Is It Time?

Guest blogger: Jeff Smith

Many thanks to Jeff Smith, a multi-talented, multi-media expert for this post. I only hope the talk I give on April 30 is worthy of the blurb Jeff wrote . I welcome suggestions as to how to approach this topic.

Whether attributable to the election of Donald Trump or not, there can be little doubt that the Bomb threats, desecrated Jewish cemeteries, and in the case of one Indiana Synagogue, a bullet fired through a Hebrew School classroom window, indicate an uptick in anti-Semitic activities in the past few months. Many people compare these hateful acts to those perpetrated on the Jews in Nazi Germany in the 1930s. If they could, many now would ask those German Jews, “Why did you wait so long to get out?”

Should American Jews be fearful that this is the leading edge of a new wave of anti-Semitism that could lead to a similar horrific result? Is it time to weigh our exit options? Where would we go if we did want to leave?
On Sunday April 30th at 9:00 AM, the Brotherhood welcomes Rabbi Stephen Fuchs, Beth Israel’s Rabbi Emeritus who will address these difficult questions and other pressing issues of the Jewish community. A suggested $6.00 contribution includes breakfast. All are invited.



Rabbi Harold Stanley Silver

It was my privilege to share these thoughts at the funeral of Rabbi Harold Silver:

With so many family members speaking this morning in addition to Rabbi Pincus, there is no need for me to review Rabbi Silver’s exemplary pulpit career in Pittsburgh and here at Beth Israel, or the remarkable things he accomplished after he retired. I only want to briefly express why I personally have such great love and respect for him.

High among my many blessings since Vickie and I came to Congregation Beth Israel nearly twenty years ago was having Rabbi Harold Silver as Rabbi Emeritus.

Among the congregations, where I have been invited to speak in the coming weeks, there is one served by rabbis who left their previous community precisely because the Rabbi Emeritus there meddled in congregational matters to the point where their lives became miserable.

I tell you this only to have you understand that having an Emeritus who knew when to let go—but who was always available for helpful advice—is not something a rabbi can take for granted.

Harold Silver was a prince … a prince of a man, a prince of a husband, father, grandfather, rabbi and—most precious to me—a prince of a Rabbi Emeritus.

I actually knew that before I came here and before I met Harold. Shortly after Rabbi Silver retired from Beth Israel in 1993 he wrote an article for the Central Conference of American rabbis Journal, which I rank as the most valuable article in that journal that I have read in my 43 years as a rabbi.

It spoke to a real problem of rabbis who do not know how to retire gracefully and presented a model for the Emeritus to gracefully and graciously step away. What an enormous contribution that article made to Reform Jewish life!

Rabbi Silver was always there for me, whenever I asked his advice, and I asked it often. He was a wonderful sounding board.

Yet in 14 years, showing remarkable restraint, he only criticized me twice. The first time was when the first Yom Kippur services I conducted ran far longer than the normal Beth Israel custom. Even on that occasion he was gentle, tactful, and gracious.

The second time was when I announced my retirement from the pulpit. He could not understand it. He thought I was too young and still had many good years left. I hope he was right.

Eventually he accepted my explanation that I always wanted to leave the pulpit before not after people began to ask, “When is he going to retire already.”

As Rabbi Emeritus of this congregation, I hope I am worthy of Rabbi Silver’s example. Rabbi Pincus, Rabbi Fliegl and Cantor Phillips, I want to be available to help you in any way I can, but I hope never to foist myself–or my opinions–on any of you. If I succeed in that lofty goal, I hope that each of you realize that you have Rabbi Harold Silver to thank for the example I try to follow.

His memory is a blessing to all of us.

The memoir Rabbi Silver wrote after he retired is titled, I Will Not Let You Go Until You Bless Me, based on the words Jacob said to the Eternal One (Genesis 32:27) in his epic struggle with all that he was and all he hoped to be.

Rabbi Silver,although we must let you go, we still seek your blessing on our lives, thoughts and deeds.




The Watchmaker

When I came to Israel last week, I brought a broken watch that had sat in my drawer for two years. The watch repair departments of prominent jewelry stores in West Hartford, Connecticut and Bad Segeberg, Germany both examined it but told me there was nothing they could do with it. I had all but given up hope of ever wearing my special watch again.

Along Allenby Street in Tel Aviv there are at least two dozen jewelry/watch repair stores within a half-mile of the Mediterranean Sea. I decided I would try one.

I did not use Trip Advisor or Yelp reviews to choose. I was looking to pick up a vibe. As I passed one small shop, I paid attention to the gentle manner in which the proprietor dealt with a particular female customer.

My gut told me, “This is the place.”

When I handed the distinguished looking man my watch, he cradled it in his hands as though it were his infant grandchild.

He carefully examined and exclaimed that he might be able to fix it. “Come back in half an hour.” Something in his manner told me I had no need to ask for a receipt.

An hour later, I returned. The man looked at me with a proud twinkle in his eye and handed me the watch. He told me it was very complicated, and that were it not a gold watch, he would not have worked on it at all. He then gave me a gentle lecture about how I had to be careful with this watch and not wear it every day.

“No,” I promised, “only for Shabbat, holidays and special occasions.” He charged me 120 Israeli shekels, about $32, which was more than fair.

A few days later I went back.

While I was in Israel my former camp counselor and now friend, Doug Barnert, sent me a Facebook message. He wanted to support Israel by asking me to buy something worth about $100 for him.

So after my experience with my watch, I went back to the store at 60 Allenby Street. It is called Shalman Brothers, and I recommend it to everyone.

This time Ya’akov Shalman and his brother and business partner, Daniel, were both there. I told them: “I have a friend in the USA for whom I need a present. It has to be small enough to easily fit into my suitcase. So please give me the best watch that you have that costs as close as you can come to $100.” He showed me a beauty, and I bought it for Doug.

I am no expert in watches, but I think they gave me a deal.

By this time we were friends. The older brother shared that he is 82 years old and was born in Israel.His father and grandfather were born in Israel. This shop has been in their family since 1921.

And still some persist in saying that the Jews are interlopers in this land.

When I asked him about this he said, “All you have to do is look in the Bible to see how long we have lived here. How can any one say this is not our land?”

I could not agree more!

A Letter from Israel

sunset-over-the-mediterraneanThe beauty of the huge sun sinking quickly into the Mediterranean makes the ten thousand miles I flew to get here worthwhile. I have seen few sights as beautiful.

I am not here often, but each time I am, I am at home.

My people have laid claim to this land for 4000 years, so let no one tell us we have no right to be here. After one third of all the Jews in the world—and two-thirds of the Jews of Europe—perished in the Shoah, let no one say we have no right to be here.

Had there been an Israel in 1935, millions of Jews who died would have lived!

When, after World War One, more than 20 Arab Islamic states—in many of which a Jew cannot legally set foot—sprung up, so let no one say that we Jews, who also lived under Ottoman rule, have no right to one–tinier than almost all of them–Jewish state as well.

And when we discuss, as we should, Palestinian refugees displaced by the creation of Israel, let us also discuss the roughly equal number of Jewish refugees expelled from Arab lands where once Jews felt welcome and at home.

Now I often find myself critical of policies of Israel’s current government.

I often find myself wishing and hoping that they would do more than they do now to bring about peace with our Arab neighbors, but so many of Israel’s unyielding critics ignore the reality under which this tiny country labors.

When, from the time they are old enough to think, the enemy teaches its children to hate Israel, to hate Jews and to consider martyrdom in killing Jews in Israel a glorious death, what is Israel to do?

There is much to criticize in Israel, just as there is much to criticize in the United States.

Yet for 4000 uninterrupted years our people has lived on or longed to live on this land and prayed for peace with its neighbors.

The huge fiery sun sets quickly to the west over the ancient city of Jaffa and sinks quickly into the Mediterranean! And just as the poet of Genesis’ creation story wrote, a much smaller but exquisitely beautiful crescent moon takes its place to stand sentry over the night. Just east of the sea the modern city of Tel Aviv bustles about its business. The contrast between the ancient and modern tableaus that exist side by side in Israel stretches the definition of stark!

Contemporary Israel is by no means an idyllic Bible land. But it is the home of my people. Let no one say we have no right to be here!

But let Israel—by forging ancient values with modern technology—find a way to live in peace with the enemies who continually reiterate their vow to destroy us.

Israel’s history is filled with many acts of military heroism, but our Sages taught (Avot de Rabbi Natan, 23:1): “Who is the hero of heroes? One who turns an enemy into a friend!”

For the sake of our children, grandchildren and generations to come may Israel and its neighbors soon produce those types of heroes!