Cease Fire?

With Tuesday’s indefinite cease fire between Israel and Hamas, questions range as to how long the cease fire will last and what the impact of it will be. Both sides feel that they won the war, yet I believe that unfortunately, like in all wars, neither side did. Until Israel is safe from rocket attacks, the battles are far from over. It is because of this that our congregation continues to say Psalm 121 every day at the end of morning minyan (though I have thought about discontinuing it if the cease fire continues after Rosh Hashanah).

I view Hamas as having the same goals and the same agenda as ISIS and Al Queida and that as long as Israel is threatened, no western country is safe. This was highlighted to me in this morning’s Newsday which indicated that 12,000 individuals, many of them westerners, have flown to Syria to be trained by and join radical Muslim groups. These individuals can fly back to their country of origin at any time undetected (if they are not known to be affiliated with said group) and carry out a terror attack. The article ended with a quotation from a Florida man who flew to Syria to join the Islamic State’s army. He said “You think you are safe? You are not safe. We are coming for you, mark my words.” With extremists like this, what good does a cease fire do? Let us pray for the moderate Muslim leaders (who Rabbi Arthur Schneier wrote about in this week’s The Jewish Week) to come forward and usher in a reign of peace rather than one of terror.

Hiking and Halacha

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Jericho Jewish Center had 40 participants in our inaugural Hiking and Halacha at Muttontown Preserve. We hiked a heavily forrested path and had fun being in nature together. I did a short teaching on Berachot Nehanin, some of the blessings that we say over seeing natural wonders, and then we said the Sheheheyanu for our being together on a hike for the first time. I am planning to offer a more advanced hike in mid-September. See you on the trail!

Standing Up for One’s Values in the Hamptons

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Karina and I went away to the Hamptons for a couple days before the “High Holiday Rush.” We saw a number of wonderful sites, including the Montauk Point Lighthouse. One of the most interesting to me, however, was seeing an Israeli flag on a store in Westhampton called Shock. Naturally we had to go investigate. We found out that the owner of 3 of the stores (including a womens clothing store and an ice cream shop) is Jewish. We also read a newspaper article posted outside one of her stores that spoke about the commotion caused by her putting up a 6 foot tall waffle cone outside her ice cream shop. For more about that incident, please read here

http://nypost.com/2014/05/04/westhampton-beach-spent-18k-fighting-merchant-over-ice-cream-cone-statue/

http://www.newsday.com/long-island/towns/westhampton-beach-ice-cream-cone-spurs-legal-headache-1.5648800

Since these articles, the ice cream cone has been moved inside the shop.

My favorite quotation (from the second article) is that the owner sometimes pushes the line promoting her business. Pushing the line (or “chutzpah”) is often thought of as a bad thing, being against the politically correct norms of society. However, I would argue that in some cases it is good. Putting a 6 foot tall ice cream cone definitely promotes ones business. Similarly, putting an Israeli flag outside ones store sends a clear message about where one stands. Chabad’s Chanukah mobile and mobile Sukkah indicate to the community the importance of being proud of who we are as a people and not being afraid to flaunt that to the world. In addition, pushing for an eruv (as recently passed in Westhampton) sends a similarly strong message about standing up for what is important to us. What is perceived as “chutzpah” to one could very well be standing up for one’s values to others.

Next time you hear the term “chuzpah” or “pushing the line” think of some of the positive connotations the term can connote.

Welcoming Experiences (Shabbat On the Beach)

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This Shabbat was incredible! We had 120 people at our inaugural Shabbat on the Beach. We were in a natural setting and used our voices and instruments (marakas and tambourines) to give us a spirit of Shabbat. All ages were represented, from 1 to 96. Cantor Black joined me in leading a spiritual and memorable prayer service. We danced to Ki Hem Hayenu and joined together to the words of Debbie Friedman’s V’Ahavta. We said a mi sheberakh for those who returned from camp and a prayer to wish well those who are headed off to college. Afterwards congregants joined together in a picnic dinner. It was my proudest day as a rabbi because it brought our entire community together.

What made this event successful in my opinion is that we had an abbreviated service with plentiful English readings and short, catchy Hebrew tunes. There was a very low entrance threshold as well as much spirit and enthusiasm. Yet we are not content to stop at Shabbat on the Beach. We are next going to do a Friday Night Live on September 12 featuring musical instruments played by religious school students. The service will be abbreviated like Shabbat On the Beach but it will have a slightly different flavor, so as not to be predictable. G-d willing it will continue to leave people wanting more.

Our goal is not the program per say but creating a welcoming, positive experiences that lead into one another. It’s not a revolutionary concept but one that is being done by emerging synagogues: meeting people where they are at and having services, programs and engagement opportunities that respond to their interests. As I learned from a Cantor in Tucson, the key is to prepare the environment and make it conducive for success, making sure that people have positive experiences. It is working well so far, and G-d willing will continue to shape the future of the new Jericho Jewish Center. By providing new engagement experiences while concurrently maintaining traditional prayer services, we are soaring to new heights.

I’ll see you next on the trail for Hiking and Halacha on Sunday August 24!

Never Again to Radical Islam?

When we as a people say “Never Again?” what does that mean? It is so easy for those of my generation to believe those are words from the past that do not apply to us today. After all, we live a comfortable existence in America. Most of us, including myself, can count on one hand (if at all) the number of anti-Semitic incidents we have faced in our lifetime.

This is what makes the current situation so scary. It is easy to look at what is occurring in Israel and say “how does that relate to me?” My answer is as follows: if you enjoy all that western civilization has to offer, it relates directly to you! The war going on in Gaza is not Israel vs the Palestinians, it is the Western World versus the World of Radical Islam.

I have seen for a fact that not all Muslims are radicals. Having worked in social action partnerships with Muslim organizations in New York City and on the South Side of Chicago has proved this to me. However, those who are in control (or fighting for control) throughout the Middle East and Africa are radical Muslim leaders. This means that they do not support my right (or yours) to live in freedom. They oppose the western ideals of “life liberty and the pursuit of happiness.” 

Take for example the thousands of Christians and Yazidis who are being murdered by ISIS in Iraq or the hundreds of thousands who have been displaced from their homes. Take the Boko Haram (whose name means western education is forbidden) who are enslaving hundreds of Nigerian Christian girls (threatening their death if they do not convert) and killing hundreds more Nigerians. Take the 200,000 who have been killed since the beginning of the Syrian Civil War in 2011 (the Arab Spring) many of whom have been killed at the hands of radical Muslim leaders. The bottom line is hundreds of thousands are dying because they are of a different religion. 

The concept of Radical Islam is well described by Martin Kramer:

“The idea is simple: Islam must have power in this world. It is the true religion—the religion of God—and its truth is manifest in its power. When Muslims believed, they were powerful. Their power has been lost in modern times because Islam has been abandoned by many Muslims, who have reverted to the condition that preceded God’s revelation to the Prophet Muhammad. But if Muslims now return to the original Islam, they can preserve and even restore their power.” 

What this teaches is we need to stand united against the face of radical Islam, not just for Israel’s sake but for our own. Never Again must mean Never Again.

These two videos (by Christian journalists) will shed more light on the matter. Thank you to my mother-in-law Robin and to congregant Lorraine for sending them my way:

Andrew Bolt is an Australian journalist – see what he has to say.

http://www.israellycool.com/2014/08/05/bolt-hits-the-nail-on-the-head/

The inimitable, wonderfully irreverent Pat Condell

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=wqSY285BqQg

Shabbat Nachamu

This weekend is the Shabbat of Comfort where we read the famous words: “Be comforted my people, Be comforted says God.” Comfort is such an important value in life. People find friends and join organizations at which they are comfortable. They go places where they are comfortable as opposed to those beyond their comfort zone.

When I was on Heritage Retreats, a summer program designed to turn secular college students into baalei teshuva, I mentioned that I wanted to become a Conservative rabbi. I was told that Conservative was “beyond the fold” and that I should at least go for Modern Orthodox. The rabbis said “Why Conservative? You are fully observant!” My response was that i am more comfortable in an egalitarian environment. Their response was “Comfort is not a halachic value!” I replied, “Comfort is a value in how I live my life on a day-to-day basis.” Needless to say, I decided to attend a Conservative rabbinical school.

May this Shabbat bring about comfort in the lives of each and every one of us. May we live our lives in accordance with practices that we personally find comfortable rather than those that others say we “should” do.

A Tisha B’Av Prayer

May this coming Tisha B’Av be a day when we recognize the humanity inherent in all the peoples of the world.

May it be a day where we become more tolerant of others’ actions and extend compassion unto all who we encounter.

May we refrain from sinat hinam and instead engage in ahavat hinam, full-flowing, unconditional love for our surroundings and those who surround us.

May we accept each other’s differences and value what makes them unique from us, rather than being jealous of what we do not have.

May we willingly extend lovingkindness and a desire for making the world a place in which we are proud to live.

May there be peace in our households, in our communities, in the Middle East and throughout the world.

May we take the steps forward to actively be the change we want to see in the world.

May we be true to ourselves, to our beliefs and to those who we care about deeply in our lives.

May this be our prayer. Amen.