Tag Archives: peace

Jethro, Ideal Father-in-Law and a man for our times


Last week we read Parshat Yitro. It is filled with extraordinary things particularly the story of the title character Yitro and his interaction with Moses and the Children of Israel.

Yitro joins up with the people of the Exodus in support of their leader, his son-in-law Moses, if not in support of their journey to the Promised Land. I am taken by Jethro’s selflessness and righteousness.   For Jethro isn’t just any father-in-law, he is a priest of the Midianites. Arguably, his allegiance should be with his people, but Jethro never misunderstands that to mean he should undermine Moses.

It would be easy for Jethro to take advantage of the turmoil in B’nei Israel and steer them towards Midian, immigrants likely ready to offer their experience as slave labor in exchange for food, shelter, and security. Instead, he helps Moses organize a system that brings justice and order to the chaos, strengthening the fledgling institutions under Moses. Jethro remains in the background and not proselytizing, although he was likely a far better communicator than Moses. Finally, once Jethro shared all that he could teach Moses, he departed so that the leadership of Moses would not be challenged if people saw the power behind the power.

Jethro did not abuse his power. Indeed, he deftly manipulated his power into support of Moses. As a Midianite Priest, his worldviews and religion were different from the Children of Israel. However, he was respectful of the “other” and helped them flourish on their particular journey.

We can be different. My beliefs do not require a negation of your beliefs. We can co-exist, cooperate and even consider ourselves connected as part of a larger family. Not only a model father-in-law, Jethro is the model leader for civil pluralistic society for today as well.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy New Year

This Shabbat we read Parsha Vayechi, closing the Book of Genesis. This coincides with the end of the secular year 2017. The religious and secular realms share something else as well; we immediately move forward into the Book of Exodus and seamlessly, 2018 starts.

Exodus’s incredible story awaits its unfolding. And if only based on the events of the past year, we anticipate 2018 will be filled with things that will both challenge us and have a far-ranging impact upon us. How we respond will also have a great effect on the future as well.

We end Genesis, as with every book of Torah, with the traditional closing: “Hazak, Hazak, v’nitchazek! Be strong and together we shall be strengthened!”

May we live 2018 energized with the courage of our convictions and move forward together. May 2018 be a year of blessings for us all, in which we work toward creating a legacy worthy of the next generation.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy New Year!

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.

Shabbat Shalom

The gifted Shai Sebbag shares Shalom Aleichem on his guitar.


Shalom Aleichem- Peace be with you, our traditional liturgical greeting of Shabbat dating back to the mystics of Tzfat (Safed) from the 16th or 17th century.

The story goes that two angels accompanied us on our way back home from the synagogue for Shabbat Dinner on Friday night.  If the home was ready for Shabbat, the good angel blessed that next Shabbat it should also be so, and the bad angel would respond “Amen”.  If the house was not ready for Shabbat, the roles were reversed.

Peace upon you, ministering angels, messengers of the Most High,                                      of the Supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.
Come in peace, messengers of peace, messengers of the Most High,                                     of the Supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.
Bless me with peace, messengers of peace, messengers of the Most High,                           of the Supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.
May your departure be in peace, messengers of peace, messengers of the Most High,       of the Supreme King of Kings, the Holy One, blessed be He.
Translation: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shalom_Aleichem_(liturgy)

Beyond UN 2334- A Message of Hope and Peace

The UN Resolution 2334 has us engaged in a fiery back and forth that is divisive for the world Jewish community, the relationship between the US and Israel, and most importantly deflecting from the important issue at hand; creating a real peace between Israel and the Palestinian people. Let us step back and reflect on the larger issue.

The Israelis and the Palestinians must figure out how to coexist and live side-by-side, respectful and tolerant of the other. Regardless of any UN Resolution, the ultimate responsibility for peace between these two people resides with them. Both sides must want peace enough. This includes each side acting in good faith, building foundations for peace within their respective Peoples and societies and doing things to promote good will instead of things that would be viewed as obstacles to peace. Until and unless both sides can come to the table and have the important and very difficult conversations that conclude in an agreement, peace is not possible.

Those of us on the outside can have our opinions, but only the Israeli and the Palestinian voices truly matter.   It is time for those voices to speak out and be heard.

May we hope and pray that in the coming year, 2017, both sides will find a way to reach out to the other, building bridges that ultimately result in both Peoples living peacefully together in the region.

Ken Yehi Ratzon

A Young Man teaches something important on the Basketball Court

ariYesterday I went to the Wells Fargo Center to watch some kids play a pick-up game of Basketball. It was not your typical basketball game, however, but not because they were playing on the home court of the Philadelphia 76ers. This was a game involving students from Temple Beth Hillel-Beth El in Wynnewood and the Al Aqsa Islamic Academy of North Philadelphia, the Bar Mitzvah project of  a young man named  Ari.

Kids got together to play ball. The kids played on blended teams. So this was not a competition between schools or even religions. It was a pickup game of basketball.

I met Ari and his mom, Meirav, and chatted about how amazing this was. I then spoke with my friend Rabbi  Cooper, Senior Rabbi at Beth Hillel about this extraordinary achievement who was spending far more time teaching court-side than coaching.

It was an extraordinary achievement indeed. No, they did not create world peace nor did they resolve the Mid-East conflicts (any of them). They played basketball together and met each other on the court to play and then perhaps to talk and begin the process of getting to know one another. This is one of the most amazing things that we can do: play together, talk together, see an opportunity for a relationship with someone we had not considered before.

It is ironic that the kids played on the court without problems, but persistent condensation issues afterward forced the professionals to cancel their game for that evening. What might the message be in this?

I can only hope this game has legs; that the conversations that began on the court yesterday continue. Meirav, Ari’s mom, told me that her daughter’s Bat Mitzvah project in two years would be another such game. We can only pray that the message of coming together continues both on and off the court and we do everything we can to support it.

Mazal Tov Ari, on your Bar Mitzvah and this wonderful event!

For those who did not see the press report, here is a link: