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Happy Independence Day

Happy July 4th!

flagfireworksIndependence Day is special. Despite flaws, the United States is great. We are blessed to live in a land where liberty and equality are the founding principles. As a Jew, I am profoundly grateful to be a citizen where I am free and safe from the hatred that has sadly been a part of Jewish history. As Americans, we need to remain vigilant, protecting and expanding these rights for all citizens and understand that our greatness comes from all of our people and our core beliefs.

Our election comes at a time when the world and our nation are confronted by many challenges. How we respond to these challenges will be telling. Will fear make us retract and retrench, or can we rise to the occasion shining a beacon to others in the world? The value boldly asserted in the Declaration of Independence that we are “endowed by (our) creator with the right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” is the bedrock of the American Experiment, the aspiration of so many across the globe and for us as well.

We have come a long way and yet there is so much further to go. We must not stop.

God bless America!

Mourning the loss of an innocent life

Hillel Yaffe Ariel

Hillel Yaffe Ariel

We mourn the loss of Hillel Yaffe Ariel, brutally murdered while asleep in her bed. Hatred, violence, and murder of children do nothing to further the cause of peace or coexistence. Indeed often hardens the heart making the future for two people even more difficult.

Let us take this time to grieve for this innocent child and refuse to let anger and hatred consume us.

May her memory be a blessing.

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What the Spies of Shlach ask us about ourselves

There is a TV commercial that distinguishes between simply monitoring and actively preventing identity theft. A violent bank robbery is in process. The monitor surveys the situation as the customers fall to the floor imploring this uniformed man to take action. He responds that he is merely a monitor; taking action is not his job. And yes indeed, there is a bank robbery underway.

shlachThe story of the spies in Parshat Shlach seems similar. Twelve men were selected and sent out to survey the land of Canaan and report back. They did what was asked and reported what they believed they saw. An insightful rabbi taught me that the answer to a question depends on the question you ask. It also depends on the nature of the respondent.

These were twelve men, “…one man each from his father’s tribe; each one shall be a chieftain in their midst” (Num. 13:2). They were leaders within their respective clans, but were they capable as conquerors? The Hebrew word is Nasi, or Prince. They were princes of the individual tribes but not necessarily the top dog, or the General of the Army to use a military term. So were these spies conquerors or bureaucrats, men of action or fearful men of complacency and conservatism?

Had the idea of freedom and freedom’s responsibilities permeated this new Israelite society? It

Spies Scout Out the Land by Yoram Raanan

Spies Scout Out the Land by Yoram Raanan

seems not; for only two spies, Caleb and Joshua believed they could actually overcome their foes and possess the land. It is possible that a deliberate selection of strategists and warriors as the twelve spies would have yielded a unanimous joining of Caleb’s assessment that they could vanquish the Canaanites. However, the spies’ ability to sway the people indicated that the Israelite people were not yet ready to enter the Land and receive the promise and responsibilities that go with it.

We also, both individually and collectively, need to ask ourselves which are we? Are we agents of change like Caleb and Joshua, or agents of the status quo? Are we willing to find ways to achieve lofty goals or fearful of the risks and unwilling to reach for more hoping to preserve what we have? Often, trying to maintain the status quo is riskier than taking the chance to make something better.  Although we should always be grateful for what we have, when it comes to values such as human rights, peace, justice, equality, and security, we can always aspire to something greater. The question remains, Are we willing to take the risk?

 

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Hope from Desperation

JohnLewis_NEW_300x380 So many of us are rooting for Representative John Lewis. An icon of the civil rights movement and leader in the House of Representatives, he has stood up to injustice by sitting down. We applaud Mr. Lewis for galvanizing other members of the House to declare that Congress can no longer ignore its responsibilities.

 Our government, as Abraham Lincoln noted, is extraordinary because it is ‘of, by and for the people’. The overwhelming popular frustration with our government is largely because it lost sight of this value and has been serving particular special interests, be they political, economic or personal. The violence that pervades our land is like cancer, insidiously growing and infecting our society, killing off vital parts, threatening to metastasize and destroy this great place we call our home.

 We are desperately seeking some relief from this disease. And although a cure remains elusive, we see an opportunity to curtail the ability of the outlaws of our society to use weapons to inflict carnage. For the Love of God and our own children, the commonplace slaughter of people with these weapons needs to be curtailed. Curtailed, because sadly we cannot stop all gun violence. That does not permit us to do what we can to at least reduce the ease with which these horrific events take place.john-lewis-1

 Sensible and responsible rules to regulate access to guns and ammunition is not an attempt to repeal the Second Amendment or its current interpretation that citizens have a right to bear arms. There is no inexorable slippery slope leading to complete removal guns from society. But there is a desperate need for us to enact and enforce responsible access and use of firearms.

 The extraordinary action of Representative Lewis on the House floor is welcomed by a nation filled with heartache and despair. I pray that Representative Paul Ryan as the leader of both his party and the House of Representatives finds a way to join forces with Mr. Lewis and guide this nation with the vision and leadership we so desperately need.

Shabbat Shalom- concluding a difficult week

We have lived through another horribly difficult week where hatred and violence scarred us deeply. With Shabbat let us find comfort and the strength to rise above these things and work for a time when we can live in safety and love, security and peace.

Ufros Aleinu Sukkat Shlomekha, taken from the Hashkiveinu prayer, Spread over us Your Shelter of Peace.

ופרש עלינו סכת שלומך Ufros Aleinu Sukkat Shlomecha
Spread over us your canopy of peace

ותקננו בעצה טובה מלפניך Vetaknenu B’aytza Tovah Milfanecha
And repair us with good council before you

והושיענו Vehoshiaynu
And rescue us

Shabbat Shalom