Tag Archives: Judaism

Jerusalem still weeps this Shabbat

As the President of the United States declared Jerusalem the capital of Israel, the various players had expected reactions. Many in Israel cheered, Arab Nations jeered, but really nothing has changed. The President officially recognized the de facto situation; Jerusalem is the capital of Israel. However, peace had not been advancing between parties and it seems unlikely this declaration does anything to move it forward. The two sides remain filled with mistrust of the other and neither is willing to budge from their respective recalcitrant positions. The status quo remains. Jerusalem, the City of Peace, sadly is not at peace.

We welcome Shabbat singing Lecha Dodi. In this mystical song-poem, Jerusalem is anthropomorphized; we prayerfully exhort that she shakes off the dust and embarrassment of a world that has forsaken what she represents to Jews and to humanity. I sing those verses with an ambivalent heavy heart every Friday night, struggling with why peace has not yet come to the place where God dwelled.

Jerusalem remains a city divided and in a state of unrest. Sadly, she is unable to bring unity to her people Israel, or to brothers and sisters who also share a vision of belonging. She is mine, but she belongs to others too. Jerusalem, The City of Peace still remains an elusive dream. An outside declaration or moving an embassy changes nothing. Only the will of those who truly seek her can realize the dream that Jerusalem is a holy center for humankind and the aspiration of peace on earth.

Shabbat Shalom.

Shine into the Darkness, The Message we mean to send

“ I know you think you understand what you thought I said but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant”                              ― Alan Greenspan

Last week I went to the White House to meet with the Special Assistant to the President with the JCRC and Women’s Philanthropy Division of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia. Respectfully but rather forcefully we advocated for our concerns over the issues of DACA, Gun Violence, BDS, Anti-Semitism, and SNAP. I know we did not change the administration’s opinion, but we gave voice inside the halls of power to our values. Sometimes we do not do speak constructively and what we think we are saying is not the message heard. There is an important example of this making its way around social media.

An anonymous rabbi is attributed as responding to a White House request for a Menorah with a rebuff saying that the current administration is antithetical to everything the holiday and menorah represent, so their menorah is not available.

I believe this message does not take the moral high ground, and instead sounds preachy and filled with a self-righteous arrogance that makes dialogue impossible. The story resonates only for those who already believe it.   But for everyone else, the message is negative, generating pushback and defiance, not a moment of teaching and potential rapprochement.

Those of us who believe that the current administration undermines important Jewish values need to speak truth to power but to do so respectful of the institution and with the hope of carrying the message to not merely protest, but to hopefully persuade.

We are obligated to reach out to those with whom we disagree. Through building relationships and dialogue we might give insights and change viewpoints. We also are empowered to champion our causes publicly and we vote. These are sacred and important parts of what makes this an extraordinary country.

The only way our light will illuminate is if we cast it into the dark.

 

 

 

 

A special message for Shabbat: Remembering Kristallnacht and Veteran’s Day

This weekend is an extraordinary confluence of memories and events that I pray leads to our rededication to the values we cherish as a nation and as Jews. Kristallnacht and Veteran’s Day are times of extraordinary solemn remembrance. The lessons we learn from these can shape our commitment to the world we seek to achieve.

 

November 9 marks the anniversary of Kristallnacht, Nazi Germany’s great pogrom and genocide against the Jewish people. The oppression and persecution of the Jews of Europe entered a new and deadlier phase bringing the long-simmering anger and aggression out into the open as Goebbels encouraged mass arrests, violence against Jews and any visible signs of Jewishness, including synagogues, stores, and our sacred texts.

 

WW1 veteran Joseph Ambrose, at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. He holds the flag that covered the casket of his son, who was killed in the Korean War.

November 11 marks Veteran’s Day, the time we honor those who have bravely fought to preserve, protect, and defend our country and the values we represent. Eventually, these men and women fought against the Nazi’s tyrannical regime built on hate but sadly too late to rescue the 6 million Jews slaughtered.

 

And yesterday, November 9, I was proud to accompany the Women’s Philanthropy Division of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia on a trip to Washington, DC to advocate both in Congress and the White House for DACA, Responsible Gun Legislation, Food Insecurity and the SNAP program, and against BDS and Anti-Semitism. We championed our values and spoke truth to power with persuasive force and civility.

The struggle to realize a better kinder nation and world continues. Yasher Koach and most profound gratitude to all of those who join the fight.

Shabbat Shalom.

Miracles can happen when you don’t forget about me

For something truly extraordinary to happen, we must include the people already inside the tent.

In Vayeira I see an important message about inclusivity, but it’s not what you think. Everyone looks at Abraham’s hospitality, running to the three men and offering rest, food and drink, and honor. But it is only when Sara comes from the tent that the great miracle of prophecy occurs. This is a most important message for us in these changing times.

We properly reach out to people outside our tent in an effort to practice inclusivity and outreach. But as we reach out we must also reach within to make sure that those already within the tent feel equally honored and valued.

People regularly leave the synagogue community because they no longer find anything there for them. Parents leave once the child has been “Bar-Mitzvahed” and Boomers leave because they do not see value in belonging. But helping to develop a child’s value system and sense of community has only just begun with Bar-Mitzvah, and finding support in a caring community is never more important than when we confront the challenges of middle age and beyond. Our synagogues are as important as ever, but destined to struggle with membership (and finances) if we do not find ways to communicate a value proposition that resonates for those already in the tent. Those front doors we want to fling open to welcome newcomers are also open to those looking to leave. We need to help them understand why they would want to stay.

Sara prepared the cakes to serve the messengers and standing at the tent’s opening, she scoffed with incredulity at the vision the men proclaimed. Our congregants too find the future difficult to accept, but it is our sacred task to give them a vision of an extended family and the caring community they are unable to imagine for themselves. As we seek to evolve and broaden our reach, we must always remember to continuously nurture those who have already aligned with us so they continue to embrace our important values and keep our tent full.

Conversations for Life and Legacy

I am excited to announce the launch of Conversations for Life and Legacy™.

Conversations for Life and Legacy™ is a whole new approach to sharing our wisdom, making meaning in our lives, and connecting beyond ourselves drawing upon the insights of Jewish tradition and text.

Conversations for Life and Legacy™ goes far beyond an Ethical Will to share our sacred stories in unique new ways. Among the particular innovations are using a rabbi trained in chaplaincy to guide the interview and capturing it all on video.

Please look at our new website: www.ConversationsForLifeAndLegacy.com to explore this new approach; see what it can mean to you and how it can be brought to your community.

Today we also launch a Facebook page: ConversationsForLifeAndLegacy and we will be on Twitter as well @rabbidavidlevincll.

It’s time to have the Conversations of your Life!

Conversations for Life and Legacy™

www.ConversationsForLifeAndLegacy.com

 

How do you serve two masters-the interfaith marriage debate

How do you serve two masters?

We are called upon to do this regularly including in the current discussion about the marriage of a Jew to a non-Jew. As Rabbis, we serve Jews and we serve Judaism. These often do not align. How these two competing missions live in tension and how we resolve the issues is something our wisdom tradition teaches us.

We serve Jews. As I have been taught, my service to them requires me to go where they are to help them along their paths, using the wisdom of our tradition to connect and shine light upon the journey. I am also in service to Judaism, charged with Shamor v’Zachor in all of its complexity. These often align with each other, but often they do not. We live in a complicated world where we usually do not choose between good and evil (that’s an easy one of course) but we choose between competing good things. Which one takes primacy? Must they be mutually exclusive, or can they co-exist? Our great tradition including Talmud urges us to grapple with these questions.

We all know minority opinions are kept because they add value, depth, and nuance to the conversation. We have seen Hillel and Shammai duel. Even though Hillel usually prevails, Shammai remains as insight into important issues that cannot be overlooked. It is incorrect to dismiss Shammai as wrong.

We all recall the story of Teaching Torah on one foot. Two radically different approaches are offered, both containing deep wisdom. Ultimately we are left with, “What is hateful to you do not do to another, the rest is all commentary. Now go study,” but not before we understand the gravitas and respect that one must have to approach the process.

The conversation about officiating weddings between Jews and Non-Jews should be viewed through this lens. Is our primary allegiance to preserving and protecting Judaism, or to reaching out to Jews wherever they may be? What precisely does each of these things look like? Where we ultimately define ourselves and cast our allegiance will determine what each of us can do and what is beyond our ability. I have no doubt about the seriousness that each of us approaches this task. And I am not criticizing the considered decision of anyone.   However, there are real ramifications to our decisions. How we are perceived in our respective communities and how will our decisions affect the couple requesting our services as officiant are two profoundly important questions we must ask ourselves as we consider the issue.

There is a substantial segment of Jews who seek to marry someone who is not Jewish. How we approach them may forever affect them and their relationship to Judaism. When someone approaches us, what will we do? If we cannot officiate based on a principled position, do we dismiss them, or find a colleague who can be present in this important and critical time? Will you be Hillel or Shammai?

 

 

What Race are You?

What Race do you identify with?

Marathon

((Rimshot))

Actually, that isn’t the opening joke in my lounge act, but part of an important recent conversation.

I was asked this question in the Red Cross Blood Drive pre-screening. The inquirer, an African-American, was completing the questionnaire and asked me to identify myself by race. There was a time when I would have responded Caucasian/White. But I uncomfortably paused and then quipped Marathon. We laughed and then we skipped the question. But, I actually do not know how to answer that question anymore.

I am not ashamed of what is now called my “white privilege.” As a Jew in America, the ability to call myself Caucasian/White is on some level a sign that we made it and have gained popular acceptance. But perhaps this acceptance remains elusive. This simple gathering of data for statistical tracking purposes has become a marker of something more complicated and fraught.

The dream of some, where we entered the melting pot of America and assimilated into a homogenous culture was a vision of many immigrants. This vision propelled many to immigrate to the land where Emma Lazarus and the Statue of Liberty beckoned. America was something new, different and better accepting all of us, and creating unbridled opportunity and equality.   That, however, was the myth for most. The reality was quite different for people outside the mainstream culture who were marginalized, persecuted and oppressed. Our national aspiration to realize our myth has been a slow and often painful evolution.

I am a Jew. I am a proud American. But I do not fit into the “white box.” Or maybe I am not comfortable residing there. I have become more sensitive to the racial issues in our country. Perhaps it is because the privileged position I have enjoyed has come under fire, not from the political left, but from the ugly anti-Semitic elements that have become emboldened and found their public voice in this new chapter of the American experience. My schools, my community centers, and my people have been the subject of a new round of persecution. Our cemeteries are desecrated; our houses of worship and community are vandalized. It is a wake-up call that the civil rights we fight for in this country are truly our own.

I am compelled to stand up for the things I believe in, the values that truly make America great, and a devotion to equality under the law and of opportunity for all. We have made great strides, but we have so much further to go. It is a marathon. Run with me.