As Rosh Hashanah Nears

Traditionally, the last month of any Jewish year, the month of Elul, is a month devoted to profound soul searching. Why?

Between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur we answer to God for our actions in the year passed.

The Days of Awe (the entire period between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur) are not a time for superficial repentance and flippant confessions. They comprise a sacred season based on an exquisite metaphor that God will call us to account for our wrongdoings 

Such a trial is not one to enter into without preparation.

Any criminal defense attorney will tell you that she or he does not walk into a courtroom to represent a person accused of serious wrongdoings without intense preparation.

If we are honest  — and if ever a time in the Jewish year demands honesty of us it is the season of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur – we have all done many things we wish we had not. 

Throughout the rest of the year, we deflect blame.  We instinctively and reflexively defend ourselves and think of all the reasons why we consider ourselves innocent of wrongdoing.  All through the year we present ourselves to others in the best possible light.

But during the Days of Awe we imagine –and more importantly we act – as if God sees through all artifice and pretense.

Some readers may wonder, “Why does he use the word  ‘metaphor’ and the phrases ‘we imagine’ and ‘as if’?” The answer is: it is far beyond my ability to state with perfect faith what God does and does not do or how God may or may not act.

But it is not beyond my ability to perceive how God wants US to act or to understand that God wants us to treat one another with dignity and respect. It is not beyond my ability to know that our Torah and subsequent Jewish tradition teach that the Eternal One wants us to do all in our power to create a more just, caring and compassionate society on earth.

And so, we prepare carefully for the trial we are to undergo. But unlike an ordinary criminal trial our guilt is clear beyond doubt to the Judge of Judges. That Judge, though, is not a stern impartial magistrate. The Eternal Judge is also a loving parent to us. Yes, God is a parent who urges us to repent and to pray for forgiveness, and God is very eager to forgive and embrace us with love.

And so as the month of Elul unfolds, we constantly review the evidence against us and regret where we have gone astray. In that way we will be ready to wholeheartedly confess what we have done wrong during the Days of Awe. 

If our efforts are sincere, our tradition asserts, God’s desire to be merciful overcomes God’s desire for strict justice so that we may enter the year of 5781 with joy, feeling cleansed and renewed.

Bridging the Gap

Bridging the Gap

Between Deuteronomy 15:4 and 15:11

(I encourage you to read Deuteronomy 15:4-11 before reading my poem)

By Rabbi Stephen Lewis Fuchs

 

I find in Deuteronomy

A glorious proclamation:

“There shall be no needy among you

In any land or nation!” (15:4)

 

What a wonderful vision that is!

If only it were true,

But I note a few lines further

We have much work to do

 

“The poor will never cease to be,” (15:11)

The very next paragraph reads.

How can two such different views

Be almost rubbing knees?

 

The answer lies between

The conflicting thoughts we heard,

But we must follow closely

And take to heart God’s words!

 

There will be no poor who languish!

That will ONLY happen if,

All of us work together

To bridge the gaping rift!

 

The rift between those who have

And those whose shelves are bare;

Between those whose larders overflow

And those with nothing there.

 

 

 

You, who are hearing me today,

Are comfortable no doubt.

But all too many on God’s earth, 

Sadly, do without!

 

Without a home to keep them dry

No clothes that keep them warm,

In snow and sleet and wind and rain,

And every passing storm.

 

Others strive just to exist

Without enough to eat

Try feeding five on minimum wage.

That’s surely no mean feat.

 

Can our hearts make room for them?

Our bounty share at least?

It’s just not right that some have nil

While others freely feast!

 

Scripture’s charge to us is clear:

There is still much to be done,

Before our world and God’s will

Truly become one!

 

Yes. we all know the time’s not near

When ALL will heed God’s wish

So those of us who really care 

Must step up to the dish.

 

We can only thank God properly

With hearts and hands unfurled

When we embrace God’s charge to us:

Repair this broken world!

 

 

 

 

 

A Reform Jewish Perspective on Tisha B’Av

Today, the Ninth day of the Hebrew month of Av, Tisha B’Av, is a day when traditional Jews fast in memory of the magnificent Temples of Jerusalem which were each destroyed, the first by the Babylonians in 586 BCE and the Second by the Romans in 70 CE. The day also is a solemn one in memory of other historical tragedies associated with that date. For example, it is said that the beginning of the first Crusade in 1095, a time of persecution and slaughter of the Jews of Europe and in 1290 the expulsion of Jews from England both took place on that date. Tisha B’Av also coincides with the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492 and the outbreak of World War I in 1914.

The meaning of this day of tragedies does not rank high in the consciousness of most Reform Jews, and that raises the question of what might we make of Tisha B’Av today

The destruction of the two Temples and the exile of Jews from our sacred land that followed, were occasions of death and suffering, and sorrow is appropriate. Certainly all the other historical tragedies associated with that date are important to remember too.

On the other hand, the centrality of the Temple in Jewish life ended abruptly with its final destruction, and there is no merit in reviving its traditions anew. Much of the Temple’s centrality revolved around its role as a place for animal sacrifice as a sign of repentance, thanksgiving or celebration. After the destruction and dispersion, though, the Jewish people found other ways worship built them around their synagogues and homes. Rabbis rose up from the community instead of priests and much of this has served us well as we wandered through the world. I know of no non-Orthodox Jews who wish to see a reconstructed Temple, a reinstitution of animal sacrifice, and a return of control over Jewish life to a hereditary priestly class.

While a tragedy of the time, the destruction of the Temple liberated Judaism to become what we treasure today, a religion based on the study of Torah, of prayer and of acts of kindness and compassion: a religion and a way of life that reaches deeply into everything we do.

The very vibrancy and strength of the Jewish people over the centuries attests to the wisdom on what we have become and not what we once were. It may sound odd, but in that sense Tisha B’Av, can be seen as both an occasion of hope and optimism as well as one of remembrance and sorrow.

It is left to us to reconcile the remembrance of genuine tragedy with the possibilities for the growth and development of the Judaism that has been passed down to us. In that context I observe a fast on Tisha B’Av until mid day. During that time I study the traditional text for the day, the biblical book of Lamentations.

At one O’clock I break my fast with a mid day meal grateful for the Judaism that has been bequeathed to us over the years, a Judaism that no longer slaughters animals and sprinkles their blood as a sign of gratitude or as a petition to God. I celebrate the fact that a Judaism without the Temple and its hereditary priestly class has been replaced by a Judaism we can all access and immerse ourselves in while we absorb the lessons our people gleaned over the centuries of wandering and before our return: that each of us should use our individual talents in our own way to make the world a better place.

Tisha B’Av for me is also the day when I begin preparing for the period of introspection culminating in the rituals of Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. Impetus for beginning the process of repentance comes from the middle of the book of Lamentations.

“Let us search and examine our ways and return to he Eternal One!” (Lamentations 3:40)

This year, with the Covid-19 pandemic ravaging our world as we know it, Tisha B’ Av seems more real to me than ever in my lifetime. We are suffering from fear, from isolation. We cannot celebrate our joys, and we cannot mourn our sorrows with those we love.

But just as the horrific destruction of the temple allowed Jewish life to emerge int a future with new and better ways to relate to God and to each other, so too will this pandemic pass. When it does I pray we emerge into a future with greater appreciation of our many blessings and a greater consciousness of our role as stewards of god’s creation that impulses to redouble our efforts to protect our fragile environment.

For Reform and Progressive Jews, then, Tisha B’Av can be both a day of mourning and a day of joy. We mourn for the destruction of the temple, but we rejoice that we have developed a strong, resilient means of surviving as Jews.

Mourning the tragedies of the past and the present we begin our annual process of intense self-examination. May we have the courage and the strength to search and examine our ways, strive to make our actions consistent with the will of the Almighty, and face the future with hope and courage!

My Tipping Now Begins at 40%

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My treasured Wes Yamaka graphic that has challenged me from my study wall since 1974.

Since local restaurants began to reopen for outdoor seating a few weeks ago, my tipping rate now begins at 40% with a twenty-dollar minimum.

There are three reasons I have adopted this practice:

  1. Server incomes have suffered greatly during the pandemic
  2. I don’t eat out very often
  3. I can afford it.

What I really would love to do is buy large pieces of prime real estate in cities throughout the country. On these parcels I would erect lovely apartment buildings, and rent the units to low income or homeless people on a sliding scale that they can afford.  If nothing is what they can afford, they get their apartment rent-free.

I would also like to start and stock a food bank that delivers food free of charge to all who our in need.  No more waiting for hours in line for a bag of groceries.  Each day trucks would deliver the food—good, nutritious and healthy food—to the homes of clients who wait for their parcels in air-conditioned comfort.

I would also love to build, staff, finance and open a massive medical research clinic with top rate doctors and scientists working diligently on two fronts. One division would be operating twenty-four hours a day in three shifts producing Covid-19 tests that the clinic would administer free of charge to any and all who requested them.  The second division would be hard at work developing a vaccine that will eliminate Covid-19 as decisively as the Salk and Sabin vaccines virtually eliminated polio. When we succeed, we shall administer those tests and vaccines at no cost.

While I am at it, I would love to operate a massive, nation-wide diversity and sensitivity training program for police officers that would insure every cop on the street knows, appreciates and responds appropriately to the very real fear so many in our country feel when an officer detains them for walking, driving or hanging out while Black.

Unfortunately, I have no plans to build apartments, establish my food bank, open my clinic or institute my dream of massive retraining of police officers because I cannot afford to do any of these things. But I can tip 40% or more.

When I was formally installed as the rabbi of my first congregation, Temple Isaiah in Columbia, Maryland—now relocated in a lovely building in Fulton, Maryland – in 1974, the congregation commissioned a well-known local artist, Wes Yamaka, to create a piece for me to include any quotation. I chose without hesitation (and slightly revised) the immortal words of the Second century Sage Rabbi Tarfon: “The day is short; the work is great … and the Master of the House is urgent.  It is not incumbent upon us to complete the task, but neither are we free to desist from it.”  (Pirke Avot 2:15-16)

That quotation looked down on me from my congregational studies in Maryland, Nashville, Connecticut, and in my office when I served as President of the World Union for Progressive Judaism in Jerusalem. Now it challenges me here in Sanibel.

Just because we cannot do everything we would like to do, we should not cease to do the things we can do to make a more just, caring and compassionate society on this planet God has entrusted to our care.

I can’t build homes, a food bank, or a clinic. I cannot provide vital training for every police officer in America. But I can respond to the pressure and hardship the pandemic has created for those who serve Vickie and me when we venture out for a meal. And so we start our tip at 40% with a twenty-dollar minimum. I add more if the service is exceptional.

None of us can do everything we would like to do, but all of us can do something. If our gesture brightens someone’s day, I am grateful.

 

 

 

We Still Have Much Work to Do

Torah Thought: Shelach Lecha June 19, 2020

I am beginning to feel like the rabbi who came to a new congregation and delivered his first sermon.  The congregation waited with eager anticipation for his initial Shabbat message, and the rabbi did not disappoint. He electrified them with his eloquence, knowledge, and oratorical style.  The congregation was ecstatic.

The following week a hush came over the congregation as the new rabbi stepped to the podium to deliver his second sermon. To the congregation’s shock, he repeated verbatim his message of the previous week. The officers huddled in the back of the sanctuary after the service and decided: “Lets’ not say anything. Perhaps he was nervous or confused.”

Wen the rabbi delivered the exact same message—word for word—a third time, though, the Board of Trustees convened an emergency meeting and confronted their new rabbi: “We don’t understand, the president said. “You inspired and moved us with your brilliant sermon three weeks ago, but then in the following weeks you simply repeated what you said before. Why?”

“That’s easy,” the rabbi responded. “When you all do as I instructed you in the first sermon, I will be happy to give you another.”

 The rabbi’s answer reverberates in my mind today.

When I was 20 years-old, a rising junior at Hamilton College with no clear idea what I wanted to do after graduation, for a reason no one has ever explained, my home synagogue, Temple Sharey Tefilo in East Orange, NJ invited me to conduct a summer Shabbat Eve service when the rabbi was on vacation: It was my first sermon ever and I referenced a recent cover of Life Magazine: The photo depicted a beautiful little girl about three years old, held lovingly in the arms of her father.  Both father and daughter were identically clad—in the white robe and hood of the Ku Klux Klan

The message for me—and I hope for the congregation on that summer Shabbat eve—was clear.  We must be taught to hate, but the hope that ignited in my heart and mind that night was that we can also be taught to love.

Events of recent weeks have frustrated us so much!

Have we made any progress at all in civil rights? Has anything changed when a driving a car or committing a minor infraction while being Black can result not in a reprimand but in a death sentence? Have we achieved anything at all when Black parents cannot be sure their children are safe for the night until they lovingly tuck them into bed?

Today is Juneteenth, the day to celebrate the Liberation of those who had been slaves in the United States. But any thoughts I have of celebrating are sullied by frustration and anger over the horrific events of recent weeks. It should not be a capital crime in the land of the free and the home of the brave to drive while Black, to jog while Black, to protest while Black, or even to commit a petty crime while Black.

My frustration at this time calls to my mind God’s frustration in this week’s Torah portion. In parashat Shelach Lecha, God’s frustration with the children of Israel’s total lack of faith is so overwhelming that the Eternal One cries out:  “How long will this people spurn me? Stand back Moses and let me destroy them, and I will make you a new and better people to lead.”

It is a tempting offer, to be sure. Time and again, the people have exasperated Moses with their lack of faith. They complain about having not enough water, they complain about the food available to them in the desert. They build a golden calf, when Moses is gone too long on the mount. And now after all God has done for them, they lack the faith to carry out the mission for which the Eternal One liberated them from Egypt in the first place.

But Moses stays God’s hand.

“God,” Moses  pleads, You can’t destroy the people whom your brought out of Egypt This is Your people, and You have charge me to help You lead them from slavery to show the world a new way of life based on justice, righteousness, caring and compassion. You cannot abandon them now!”

The most wonderful feature of this week’s lesson is: God listens to Moses.  He relents and proclaims the immortal words:

“I have pardoned as you have asked.”

These are the very words we proclaim on the Eve of Yom Kippur after the Cantor concludes the singing of Kol Nidre.

These words give us hope.  If God could forgive the Children of Israel for their horrible sins, then we have reason to believe that if we repent, God will forgive us as well.

The sins the White race have committed against people of color are beyond egregious.  We traveled across the sea to hunt them as animal. We chained them to the holds of ships. We sold them like chattel at slave market, and we have impeded their march to equality at every step along the pages of history since.

Have we made progress? Undoubtedly.

But recent events make it clear how far we have to go.

The miracle of modern technology brings our transgression into sharper relief than ever before.

In the 60s, martyrs of the civil rights struggle like James Chaney, Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner were just names attached to gruesome but grainy photographs.

Now, we see the brutality played and replayed over and over in living color before our very eyes. Now the faces and the anguish of many of the victims of racism is inescapable:

George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, Ahmoud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, Philando Castile, Freddy Gray, Sandra Bland, Sam Dubose, Alton Sterling, Terence Crutcher, Aiyanna Stanley-Jones, Walter Scott, Tamir Rice, Atatiana Jefferson, Michael Brown, Eric Garner, Tanisha Anderson, Trayvon Martin, and too many more—

These are real people. We can see their faces, see the torture they experienced and hear their plaintive cries—some literally ringing in our ears—as an indictment for 2,000 years of kidnapping, murder, exploitation and abuse.

This week’s Torah portion is Moses’ finest our because he urges God not to give up on the people even after they have shown their faithlessness time after time. Moses brings God back from the brink of despair.

Those of us who believe in full equality are also at this time on the brink of despair.  But I hope the message of the Torah resonates with us. We cannot give up. No matter how frustrated and angry we are, we must find the strength to keep writing of our anger, keep speaking out and keep marching.

We may not achieve full equality in our lifetimes, but we must not give in to despair. We must find the strength to continue the struggle and if we do, we too may hope that God will say to us as the Eternal One proclaimed to the children of Israel.

“I have pardoned your sins of the past as your actions demonstrate you have requested.”

So, I come to the end of another Torah Thought.  The portion is different, but like the new rabbi in his congregation, my message is very much the same as I delivered last week and the week before:

God urges us to do all we can to build a society of justice caring equality and compassion.  We still have so much work to do.

 

 

 

 

 

Thank You, Vickie, for 46 Years

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June 9, 2020

Thank you, Vickie, for marrying me 46 years ago today. Thank you for putting up with me and infusing my life with purpose and meaning that it could never have had without you.

Thank you for bearing and raising three different personalities and nurturing each to find his/her own way to make the world a better place.

Thank you for nursing me back to health each time I was seriously ill. You watched over me with loving fierceness and were right there to prevent mistakes that medical professionals were about to make.

It was love at first sight for me when I met you, and I am so very blessed that you decided to make the journey through life with me. You combine a wise person’s mind and heart with a beautiful young woman’s body and face.

Thank you for handling all our finances and relieving me of the frustration of paying bills and checking balances. I was not cut out for that.

We have been blessed to travel extensively and share many wonderful occasions. There have also been moments of worry, sadness and heartbreak.

Through all of life’s ups and downs there has been one constant, and indispensible saving grace: you have been there for me no matter what.

Over the years, I have asked each couple who invites me to officiate at their wedding: “Do you think you met by chance, or do you believe that in some way far beyond our ability to fully understand or explain that God brought you together?”

When I ask myself that question and think back on my life before you entered it, my answer is unhesitating. I believe with all my heart that God meant us to be together. Of all the things I have ever strived for, my highest goal in life is to try to be worthy of the priceless gift with which the Eternal one has blessed me.

I love you!

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Happy Anniversary Rochelle and Jack

fullsizeoutput_2c3aJune 7, 2020 –

Today marks the 56th wedding anniversary of my sister Rochelle and her husband Jack!

At 18-years-old, I was the head Usher at their wedding!

Together they have raised four wonderful and highly successful daughters who blessed them with wonderful husbands and seven bright and beautiful grandchildren.

Their home in Old Bridge, New Jersey, was for many years the headquarters for countless joyful family occasions and several sad ones as well. Now they kvell, as the family celebrates happy times and mourns our losses in their daughters’ homes.

When we were growing up, I made it difficult for ‘Chelle to be a loving big sister by making a pest of myself whenever her friends would come over. Looking back it is easy for me to see why a 12- year-old girl would not want her 8-year-old brother hanging around when she was in her room with her friends.

But if I made it hard for Rochelle to love me she did anyway.

When I was 7 and in the hospital for my hernia operation (a six-day hospital stay back then), my sister walked 4 miles home from her swimming lesson instead of taking the bus so she could use the money to buy me a present.

When she celebrated her Bat Mitzvah, she used some of her gift money to buy me the coolest present my nine-year-old mind could imagine: a gun with rubber darts that shot ducks off a stand that went round and round.

Speaking of Rochelle’s Bat Mitzvah, it was a pivotal event in my life as well as hers. She became only the second Bat Mitzvah in the 80-year history of Temple Sharey Tefilo in East Orange, NJ. My Dad was against it saying, ”It’s not necessary for a girl,” but Rochelle in alliance with our mother, stood her ground.

I absorbed the message.

If Judaism was important enough for her to stand up to my Dad for the privilege of reading from the Torah, then maybe I needed to look deeper into my religion to find “what’s in it for me?”

When ‘Chelle met Jack, I immediately sensed something different about her.  I liked him right away too.  He was so cool.

I loved listening to his stories about working at Robert Hall Clothes and selling Good Humor Ice Cream on the beach in Far Rockaway. He drove me to and sat through the band concert of a girl I liked in a different town because I didn’t have a license.

Looking back, they were so young, 21 and 20, when they married, but they seemed so ready and so sure and so wise beyond their years.

One of the worst days in my life was when Mom called me when I was studying in Israel (If you got a call from the states in Israel in 1971, you knew it was either a very special occasion or something was very wrong) to tell me that Dad had died. The flight home was beyond painful, but as soon as I saw Jackie, who picked me up at the airport, I began to feel a little better.

Before my wedding, Jack gave me lessons in how to break the glass, so I would do it just right.

And now the years have run by, 56 of them. 

They have seen all four daughters graduate college and shared the joy of each of their seven grandchildren’s B’nai Mitzvah. This fall, a fourth grandchild begins her college journey

 All through those years they have worked side by side as Rochelle played an integral role in Jack’s thriving solo CPA practice. All through those years they have nurtured in their children and grandchildren the same love for Judaism Rochelle nurtured in me long ago.

Happy anniversary, ‘Chelle and Jack! I love you both!

We Are Not at the Beginning

The anguish over recent events—wanton murders, peaceful protests sometimes turned violent – has bought cries of despair from several quarters. Voices proclaim, “We are back at the beginning. It is as though all the progress we made in the 60’s and 70’s was for naught.”

Make no mistake: We are not back at the beginning. 

  • At the beginning the Minneapolis police officers who murdered George Floyd would not be facing murder and manslaughter charges.
  • At the beginning they would not have even been fired.
  • At the beginning no one would have recorded the knee on the neck of George Floyd.
  • At the beginning it would not have been broadcast worldwide.
  • At the beginning the world would not have risen up in outraged protest.

When I was a kindergarten student in East Orange, New Jersey, in 1951, my recess play partner was usually an African-American named Dickie Harvest. We had a great time throwing an orange, volleyball size ball back and forth in the Ashland School playground. We went to each other’s birthday parties, and we played in each other’s homes.

But even then I was aware that most of the other White kids and Black kids kept to themselves. I was also aware that schools in the south were segregated, and people of color there were forced to stay in separate hotels, eat in different restaurants, drink from separate water fountains and ride in the back of the bus.

In my kindergarten naiveté I asked my Dad, “Why don’t they just make a law that all people everywhere must be treated the same in all things?”

My Dad responded, “That would be a wonderful thing, my son, but that day will never come.”

I don’t remember when Jackie Robinson broke baseball’s color line, but I do remember when Elston Howard became the first African American player on the New York Yankees.  Back then when all players had roommates at hotels on road trips, Elston Howard had a room by himself. 

Those days are distant memories. We are quantum leaps forward from “back at the beginning.”

Times have changed enough so that we can envision the day I asked my Dad about as a child. Our profound rage and sorrow over events of recent weeks should not lead us to despair. The perpetrators will answer for their crimes. Their cases will come to justice.

Of course these things should never have happened, and we as a nation must live with the reality. That reality is not that we are back at the beginning. That reality is that we still have such a long, long way to go. 

Where should we start?

Recently we read from the Torah about the vows taken by Nazirites. The restrictions seem strange:

  • No haircuts
  • No wine
  • No contact with the dead.

As strange as they seem these outside the box activities enabled the two known life-long biblical Nazirites, Samson and Samuel, to better fight the Philistines and lead the Israelites respectively.

Maybe we need to think outside the box as well in the fight for racial justice.

Our rabbinical student son, Leo Fuchs directed me to the Twentieth century philosopher Emmanuel Levinas who taught: “God’s face is found in the face of the Other – the face of the one who disturbs us and make us feel that we should do something.”

When asked recently why he joined a protest march, Rabbi Adam Schaffer of Woodland Hills California, responded, “Just trying to do my small part to bend the proverbial arc of history just a little.”

If we all do just a little, we could end up doing a lot.

Many of us have long thought of ourselves as allies and partners in the struggle of People of Color for equal justice, equal access and equal opportunity. No doubt we have been. But these times call for more.

To be sure we are not at the beginning, but we are at a fork in the road.

Perhaps if we look deeply into the “face of the other” and listen closely to their words, we shall see the path God would have us follow as we continue the sacred march toward liberty and justice for all.

In the Face of Injustice

The day before he was indicted I tweeted that Derek Chauvin should be charged with murder in the death of George Floyd.

A friend of 56 years tweeted angrily in reaction: “It is unbecoming for a religious leader to interfere in a matter in the temporal world …you are not the prosecutor, and you don’t know all of the facts…Judaism has absolutely nothing to do with what happened in Minneapolis.”

I responded:

“Judaism has EVERYTHING to do with what happened in Minneapolis … and as for the facts: Three cops looked on while one of their number pressed his knee into the neck of a handcuffed man until he died. If Mr. Floyd did anything to mandate his arrest, the manpower was clearly there to do it without killing him. This is murder.”

In the days following Mr. Floyd’s murder, Jews around the world celebrated the Festival of Shavuot, which marks the anniversary of when God transmitted the Torah to our people on Mt. Sinai.

Our tradition teaches that all Jews everywhere and all future generations miraculously were there to take part in that singly important moment in our religious journey.

To stand at Sinai does not mean simply to worship, give charity and to study.

To stand at Sinai means to pledge our utmost to fill the world, as God charged Abraham,   “with righteousness and justice.” (Genesis 18:19)

To stand at Sinai means among many other things:

To worship no other gods, not to swear falsely, not to bear false witness, to treat the stranger with dignity and respect, to care for the widowed and the orphaned and not to follow the crowd to do what is wrong.

To stand at Sinai means to have special consideration for the minorities and the disadvantaged.

On Yom Kippur, our Day of Atonement, one of the sins we ask forgiveness for is “abuse of power.” There is no more intimidating symbol of power than a uniformed officer of the law. And there is no group of people abused by that power more frequently in our country than those who are Black .

Unless we protest injustice especially when perpetrated against minorities and the disadvantaged, then we Jews today deserve the indictment hurled by the prophet Amos at the Jews of Samaria in the name of God almost 3000 years ago:

“I hate, I despise your feasts, and I will take no delight in your solemn assemblies.” (Amos 5:21)

Unless we raise our voices to protest the murders of people like George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arberry, Eric Garner, and Trayvon Martin and countless other Black men and women murdered for the “crime of being black” then all of our Sabbath, Holy Day and Festival observances are abominations in the sight of God.

Make no mistake. I do not condone violent protests that burn buildings, damage property and inflict bodily harm.  But I am violently opposed to the callousness of a system that allows the abuse of minorities to continue unchecked until anger and frustration boil over.

Though none of us can bring this scourge to an end singlehandedly, each of us can raise our voices in protest. Each of us can reach out to those we know in the African American community to acknowledge the pain they feel and express our support.

No, none of us can end oppression by ourselves, but with understanding and compassion we can move the world just a bit closer to another time of which the prophet Amos dreamed: “When justice will well up as waters and righteousness as a mighty stream.” (Amos 5:24)

Hopefully, Next Year

Today would have been the day.

Today was the day Vickie and I were to begin six exciting weeks of teaching in German High Schools about the Shoah, and when I would be speaking in churches and synagogues.

I was also particularly looking forward to celebrating our 46th anniversary on June 9 with our hosts Pastors Ursula Sieg and Martin Pommerening at the exquisite Fuchsbau (Fox Den) Restaurant. We loved the idea of celebrating our anniversary in a restaurant we could imagine was named after us.

The next day we were to travel to Berlin where I had been invited to participate in the ordination ceremony at the Abraham Geiger College, I was also to teach a three-hour seminar there and lead the service and deliver the sermon at Friday night worship.

From there our schedule called for us to travel to Leipzig, the city where my father was arrested on Kristallnacht to take part in a week long series of events for descendants of Leipzig’s once thriving Jewish community.

My bittersweet birthday present to myself on March 16 was to cancel our entire trip.  At that time I wondered if I was being prudently proactive or presumptuously premature. After two more weeks went by it was clear that cancelling was the only decision to make.

It feels strange to be staying in Sanibel now, as our time in Germany has become so important to Vickie and me as part of our quest to do our small part to try to make the world a better place.

For the past five years we spent between five and ten weeks there doing the things I described above.  Before coming to Sanibel in 2017 we were there for ten weeks in the fall. There I had the privilege of conducting services for the High holy Days in Kiel, Bad Segeberg and Freiburg. When we accepted the invitation to serve Bat Yam Temple of the Islands here in Sanibel, the expectation, of course, was that we would be here for Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.  So we switched our program to the late spring and shortened it considerably.

This would have been the first year our hosts, Pastors Ursula Sieg and Martin Pommerening would have hosted us in their new home in Bad Oldesloe and the first we did not spend in their previous home in Bad Segeberg.  We looked forward to experiencing their new surroundings and to exploring a new town in picturesque Schleswig-Holstein, the northernmost of Germany’s 16 states.

A few weeks after cancelling the trip I stopped playing tennis even though I know the warm sunshine and vigorous exercise did me a world of good. That was another bittersweet present I gave to myself.

Just today, Vickie and went to the courts for the first time in a month and hit for about half an hour.

We came in contact with no one and wiped our rackets down when we finished. It is nice to be back on the courts, and I will follow the United States Tennis Association guidelines to play prudently.

Playing tennis again will be a small consolation for missing our time and the people we have come to enjoy so much in Germany! Hopefully we will be able to go back next year.