Pervasive Fear

The prophet Micah (4:4) succinctly and eloquently articulates God’s ideal for humanity with the words ואין מחריד  – “nothing or no one shall cause fear. The verse envisions or dreams of a wonderful time, “when everyone shall sit under their vine and under their fig tree and no one shall make them afraid.

In Psalm 54 (verse 6) we read a garbled Hebrew verse that might read:  “There they are in great fear, where no fear was.”

In his masterful commentary on Psalms, Robert Alter interprets the verse as referring to a time when the Israelites “were afraid, but it turned out there was no reason to fear.”

Mass shootings over the past several years and particularly the most recent ones (at least the most recent ones as of this writing) in El Paso and Denver bring to my mind a different interpretation of the confusing verse:

There is NOW pervasive fear when previously there was once no reason to be afraid.

  • Just days ago residents of El Paso felt they could shop at Wal-Mart without fear. Now they have learned differently.
  • Just days ago people in Dayton, Ohio blithely went out for a night on town. Now things are different.

So it is all over this country. Places considered safe are no longer safe. No one considers herself or himself safe anymore. We all are acutely aware that the next attack can happen at our synagogue, church, mosque, shopping center or entertainment venue.

It is a horrible way to live.

When I went to school, shooting drills were not part of the curriculum. Now they are.

How has this great country, become a place where the fear of random violence lingers over all that we do?

How did the “Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave” become the “Land of Pervasive Fear?”

The thought of living in constant fear sickens me, and when I look at my six beautiful grandchildren, it sickens me even more.

  • Gun control
  • Reduced violence spewing out of media outlets
  • Better mental provisions for those with emotional disorders
  • Improved public schools
  •  Health care that is the right for all; not the privilege of the wealthy
  • Swift punishment for cops who cross the line 

All of these are agenda items for our society to address yesterday if not sooner if ever we hope to roll back the cloud of once unnecessary fear that hovers over all of us.



And Now Dayton

There is an old country song that the late Lynne Anderson (of Rose Garden Fame) used to sing on the Lawrence Welk Show. It is called, “I’ve Been Everywhere, Man.” Singing it requires a prodigious memory of hundreds of place names sung at (excuse the expression) Machine Gun Speed.

The next name on the seemingly endless list is Dayton!

Will it ever end?

Will we as a nation ever come to our senses?

Yes, I know, guns don’t kill people, people kill people. How many times have we heard that one? Of course it is true. But it is a lot easier to kill large numbers of people with a machine gun than with a knife.

No, it won’t solve the problem, but it will make a dent if we make a license to own and discharge a firearm as difficult as the process of obtaining a driver’s license.

It is not that tough, but you have to prove that you are capable of operating a vehicle. Still automobiles have killed and will continue to kill millions of people. But how much higher that number would be if anyone could simply buy a car and hit the road?

No, gun control will not eliminate wanton violence.

But it sure would make a difference!

El Paso Today

עד מתי (Ad Ma-tie)

How long?”

In different ways the authors of the Bible’s Book of Psalms ask this question over and over again:

How long will wickedness, violence and terror reign on the earth?

The Psalmist’s question 3000 years ago is my question today. Vickie and I were in a Wal-Mart in Fort Myers when hell descended on a Wal-Mart in El Paso. So I feel more connected than usual to this latest outbreak of hate filled terror.

It was easier today than in other shootings to envision my wife and I mowed down by machine gun fire as we vainly scrambled for refuge in a crowded store.

How long will we allow the NRA to allow people with AK-47 rifles to unload their magazines on innocent people? How long will we allow lives and dreams to be destroyed in an instant just because someone feels like doing so?

Mass shootings are no longer unexpected. Each subsequent tragedy raises the questions not if there will be a next one, but where and when will the next one be?

So twenty more people are now dead. Scores of others are seriously wounded because the Congress of the United States is content with our nation having the highest rate of deaths to gun violence in the world.

Stricter gun control will not stop all the shootings, but they will stop many. Background checks for all, licenses for all and a ban on assault type weapons are necessary – no brainer really –steps our nation must take.

 Rabbi Sarah Hronsky wrote that we must never become numb to the carnage that the NRA fights for the right to occur and too many Senators and members of the House of Representatives condone by their failure to act.

The second amendment to our Constitution speaks of the rights of states to arm and train a “well-regulated militia.” The second amendment does not say that anyone or anybody should be able to possess and use a weapon capable of killing dozens of people in little more than an eye blink.

Our gun laws are a national disgrace!

Health care should be a right not a privilege for those who can afford it. Owning a gun by contrast should be a privilege like driving a car, for which one must prove oneself worthy and capable.

We Americans need to have the guts to vote for politicians who will stand up to the NRA and pass gun laws that will save lives.

We need to vote for a President who will lead the way to a safer United States.

How long? How long until this country finally comes to its senses?


A Trip to Savor 


pcFDkOwqSp26zqpFc0MYLQPastor John Danner and I at the Peace Wall at the border of Gaza comparing our messages of hope that this troubled part of the world may one day know harmony and cooperaton.

Our congregation’s joint trip to Israel with Sanibel Congregational UCC exceeded my fondest expectations!

The only previous interfaith journey to Israel I had undertaken was one that I co-led with an anti-Israel Arab Professor from the Hartford Seminary twenty year ago.  It was not a joyful experience.

While I tried to present and model an open-minded, “let’s listen to both sides of the conflict,” perspective, the professor took us to a Palestinian village where his selected panelists heaped venomous attacks on the very existence of the Jewish State as we sat in a beautiful auditorium community center built for that Arab village by the Government of Israel.

When the Professor begged off our visit to the Holocaust Memorial at Yad Va-Shem, claiming he did not feel well (he was absolutely fine that evening), I truly regretted having agreed to co-lead this “journey of understanding.”

By contrast our joint trip this summer was an absolute joy.

There were 42 in our group, almost equally divided between Christians and Jews. My UCC counterpart, Rev. Dr. John Danner was a model of sensitivity, open mindedness, wisdom and pastoral concern.

For me one of the true highlights was accepting the invitation of Rabbi Ada Zavidov to deliver the D’var Torah at Kabbalat Shabbat services at Kehilat Har El in Jerusalem, the oldest Reform synagogue in Israel. On this visit to Har El, I spoke in English for the benefit of my wonderful group of fellow travelers about the vital principles of human conduct found in the Holiness Code, Leviticus, chapter 19.  It warmed my heart to know that every idea I expressed was an ideal that Dr. Danner and his congregants could wholeheartedly affirm. Our religious differences are real, but we share common moral values and a fervent desire to use our respective faiths as springboards to help repair our broken world.

It was the second time in 5779 that I had the privilege of preaching at Har El. The first time in October I spoke in Hebrew about the lessons of the stories of Noah and the Tower of Babel. Then I was visiting my son Leo, who at 42 made the decision to begin rabbinical studies and spend his first year of the five-year graduate program at Hebrew Union College in Jerusalem. His address to our group this spring was a genuine highlight of the journey.

Leo has an extensive Jewish background, but he knows well there is no shortcut to becoming a genuinely credentialed rabbi. The day-in, day-out, interactions with Professors and other students are absolutely essential to a rabbi’s legitimacy

A shortcut course and a bit of flair and charisma may help one become an effective leader of worship, but to become a rabbi, worthy of that venerable title, takes years and years of full time concentrated study. Anything less is akin to calling an EMT a physician.

On our recent trip it was just as important to me and my fellow Jews as it was to the Christians in our group to visit the holy places of their religion. Worship at the Church of the Redeemer in Jerusalem on Sunday morning, visits to the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, the Church of the Annunciation in Nazareth and the opportunity for our Christian friends to re-experience baptism in the Jordan River were moving experiences for us Jews to better understand Christian roots and practices.

Pastor Danner, while scrupulously respecting boundaries, offered loving and Jewishly affirming explanations that enhanced all of our understanding. I’d go with him again, to Israel or any other place of mutual interest.



Strong, Savvy Biblical Women; Clueless Men

After my lecture on “Strong Biblical Women” in Bordesholm a woman came up to me and said, “You should write a book about what you just told us.”

I was very touched.

I am not ready to write a book on the subject, but I hope this essay is of interest.

In preparation for this lecture I asked my rabbinic colleagues in a closed forum on Facebook (due to strict confidentiality requirements of the site, I am not referring to any of them by name) to offer an example of a woman they would include if they were giving the lecture. Their suggestions were very helpful, and I am most grateful to them.

I began by offering a quotation that I have chosen to appear at the bottom of on every page on my web site: “Repeatedly in the Bible, it is the woman who ‘gets it’ and the man who is ‘clueless.’

I originally wrote those words in defense of Eve who, “has been maligned for generations for the supposed “fall of man” when in fact; she is – in my view –the heroine of “the elevation of humanity.”

(From Why the Kof? Getting the Best of Rabbi Fuchs?)

I chose to leave Eve and several other very strong women out of my lecture because of the Talmudic lesson I learned from my late Professor Samuel Sandmel many years ago: Tasafta mirubah, lo tasafta,” (B. Rosh Hashanah, 4b)which essentially means, “If you try to do too much, you end up doing nothing at all.”

In the course of a one-hour presentation, that was a vital point to remember.

I began, then, with Rebecca. One may certainly question the way she went about things, but one cannot deny that she had greater insight into what God needed in terms of an heir to the Covenant of Abraham than did her husband Isaac. She acted decisively on her instinct.

Because the story is complex and time was a factor, I did not delve into the character of Tamar and her impact on Judah in the Joseph Story. If I ever should write the book suggested to me, Tamar will receive lengthy treatment as she does in What’s in It for Me? Finding Ourselves in Biblical Narratives. (WiIfM? FOiBN)

For time reasons as well, I did not delve, as several suggested I should, into the fascinating case of Zelophehad’s daughters. Their story marks a vital first step in establishing a woman’s right to inherit her family’s property.

For the same reason (and because they too are written about in WiIfM? FOiBN) I only briefly touched on the vital roles played by

six women who made it possible for Moses to stand before Pharaoh to demand the liberation of our people.

Because I was speaking to a church group in Germany I made one exception: I dealt at some length with the role of the two midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, who defied Pharaoh’s decree to kill any Hebrew boys they helped birth. As I point out in WiIfM? FOiBN:

The example of Shiphrah and Puah stand as

a sharp rebuke for those who excuse their

ethical misdeeds with the claim they had no choice—they were simply following orders from their superiors.

Case in point: During the trial of Nazi war criminals

at Nuremburg, Germany, defendant after defendant

attempted to justify his action on the basis that he was just following orders. The courage of Shiphrah and Puah is timeless testimony that “just following orders” is no excuse.


(In the book I cite Nora Levin’s, z’l, example in The Holocaust, pp. 241-244, of the commander of Einsatzgruppe D, Otto Ohlendorf.)


I next spoke about Deborah from the book of Judges. In her time pagan Canaanite forces under the direction of Sisera were vexing Israelite settlements.  At that time there was no nation of Israel, just a loosely organized group of tribes and as individual entities, they were vulnerable to invasion.

Deborah successfully united the tribes of Zebulon and Naphtali to thwart the incursions. She summoned Barak, a leading General, but he refused to lead the troops unless Deborah went with him into battle. She was a judge, military leader, prophet and poet, one of the Bile’s strongest characters of either gender.

I also mentioned Samson’s unnamed mother. She received God’s vision that she would bare a son who would begin to redeem the Israelites from the Philistines, but when she told her husband, he was sure they would die. But Manoah’s wife knew better. She was another example of a savvy woman with a clueless husband.

My next example was Hannah, Samuel’s mother. Compared to her Eli, the High Priest at Shiloh was a bumbling fool.

Five Megillot and three are about women.

There are five books of the Bible designated as Megillot(scrolls), Song of Songs, Ruth, Lamentations Ecclesiastes and Esther, and these are associated with Passover, Shavuot, Tisha B’Av, Sukkot and Purim respectively.

Three of the five Megillot are about very strong women. Purim celebrates the courage of Vashti and Esther. Song of Songs(as per the interpretation, I arrived at when studying Song of Songsin my D.Min program at Vanderbilt Divinity school with the Womanist scholar, Renita Weems) tells of a woman strong enough to resist the blandishments of King Solomon’s harem to follow her shepherd lover.

I concluded my talk with Ruth The story tells of Naomi’s faithfulness and Ruth’s loyalty and the reward she receives to become the great grandmother of King David. David, according to both Jewish and Christian traditions, is to be the ancestor of the Messiah.

Another woman I left out whom several of my colleagues suggested I include was Huldah the Prophetess, who exerted strong influence on King Josiah at the end of the seventh pre-Christian century. Because of my colleagues’ suggestions though I did read up on her and was able to include her in the answer to one of the questions from those who attended.

Again, I left out important women due to time limitations. Still I hope the examples of Rebecca, the six woman who saved Moses’ life, Deborah, Hannah, Samson’s mother, Vashti, Esther, the heroine of Song of Songs, Naomi and Ruth were sufficient to convince participants that far from being unimportant, many biblical women outshine the men around them in terms of leadership ability and perception of what it was God needed them to do. They are important roe models for young women today and an inspiration to all of us.





What Happened at Sinai?

landscape mountains clouds fujisan

Is this what Sinai looked like? (Photo by Donald Tong on 0

Shavuot commemorates the pivotal moment when God revealed Torah on Mount Sinai.

So unique in history did the Sages of our people envision the event at Sinai that they imagined the whole world coming to a complete silent standstill.  In the words of the Midrash:

When God revealed Torah at Mount Sinai, no bird sang, no cow mooed, no bad of grass rustled in the wind. (Shemot Rabbah29:9)

 What makes this moment so unique?

At Sinai the Covenant God made first with Abraham alone became the privilege and sacred responsibility of the entire Jewish people, past, present and future.

What actually took place at Sinai? It should surprise no one that our Sages fertile minds produced a number differing Midrashim. Here are four: 

No one else wanted it.

In one God offers Torah to all the nations of the world. But when they hear what it says –Don’t cheat, don’t steal, treat the stranger the widow, the orphan and the poor with special dignity and respect – they all reject it out of hand. (See Sefer Ha-Agadah (Bialik and Rovenitzky, editors, vol. 1, p. 59). Only Israel accepted God’s offer.

The Godfather Midrash

Another Midrash, that I like to call The Godfather Midrash, has God lift Mount Sinai and hold it over the heads of the assembled Children of Israel.  Then God says, either you accept and pledge to observe my Torah or I shall drop the mountain on top of you. (B. Shabbat 88A and B. Avodah Zarah 2B)

This Midrash teaches us the vital lesson that our only purpose as a people is to be teachers and examples of the ideals of Torah to the world.  Indeed by adherence to these ideals we become in the words of the Prophet Isaiah; “A light to the nations’ (Isaiah 49:6) a worthy example for all.  If we are not willing to accept the responsibility of adhering to the Torah’s ideals, there is no good reason for us to continue to exist.

There is even a third Midrash that states that Israel’s willingness to accept Torah was so important to God that the Almighty threatened to break the promise made after the flood never to destroy the world again unless Israel agrees to embrace the Torah and its ideals (B. Shabbat 88A).

We must show we are worthy

A fourth Midrash stresses the importance of passing the ideal of Torah to future generations. In this one the question is not, are we willing to accept the Torah?  It is rather, how will we demonstrate to God that we are worthy to receive it? When God asks us to offer guarantors of our worthiness, we offer the deeds of our patriarchs and our prophets but God finds neither of these acceptable.  Only when we pledge the loyalty of our children to God’s teachings does God reveal the Torah to our people. (Shir Ha ShirimRabbah, Chapter 1, Section 4, Midrash 1)

The rabbinic method of interpretation encouraged creative thought.  There was rarely only one acceptable point of view on any question. Indeed there are no fewer than four different rabbinic versions of how the greatest moment in our religious history came to be. There are others as well. Each, though, stress our privilege and responsibility to study Torah and pass its teachings on to the net generation.

Hag Shavuot Sameach!

Busy and Fulfilling Five Days

Sunrise over Husum

Road Trip

If Vickie and I were a baseball team, we have just completed our longest “Road Trip” of the season.

At noon on Friday we began our two and a half hour train trip to Husum. There we were the guests for four nights in the charming “Holiday Apartment” of our wonderful friends, Rita and Horst Blunk. (See Blog post: “Rita and Horst.”)

This past Shabbat eve it was my privilege once again to conduct Kabbalat services at the Jewish synagogue in Friedrichstadt. The synagogue was not totally razed by the Nazis on Kristallnacht (as so many others were). The Nazis threw hand grenades inside and destroyed all Jewish artifacts.  Then they commandeered it as an Officers’ Headquarters. 

After the war it was returned to the Jewish community. There is a large photograph on glass where the ark once stood that shows the destruction of that spot.

Since there was no longer a Jewish community in Friedrichsstadt, the synagogue became a cultural center and Jewish museum. In 2015 I had the privilege of conducting the first Jewish service in that city since the Nazi takeover.

What an occasion that was. 70 people jammed the small sanctuary, at least 50 of whom were representatives of the Christian community who had come to pay their respects.

This Shabbat’s service was a much smaller affair, and I guess that is a good thing. I am glad that a Jewish service in Friedrichstadt is no longer a novelty.

On Shabbat, Rita and Horst had planned to take us on an excursion to the North Sea Island of Sylt. The weather, though, was too cold, so instead we toured other charming areas in the North Sea Region. It was a wonderful day.

We see more sheep, cows and horses than people (almost) in Germany’s beautiful North Sea coastal region.

Sunday was a long, busy and very fulfilling day. In the morning, I delivered the sermon at the St. Marien Lutheran Church in Husum at the invitation of Pastor Friedemann Magaard. Pastor Magaard has an admirable history of activity aimed at interfaith understanding and affirmation. To acknowledge and protest the uptick in anti-Semitic activity in Germany (see my essay on this subject in Dr. Magaard wore a kipah during the service.

It was a privilege to return to his church. 

Speaking in the Marienkirche (St. Mary’s Church) in Husum

During the service, Dr. Magaard invited any interested worshippers to join me for a study session in their new community building next door. I wondered if anyone would come, but to my joy thirty people crowded into the small room to study the coming week’s Haftarah portion from Hosea. I was moved by the depth of the questions the participants asked and by the observations they shared.

Torah study at Marienkirche, Husum. To my left is Dr. Uwe Ehrich, who translates for me in Friedrichstadt and Husum.

Afterwards, Rita, Horst, Vickie and I enjoyed a scrumptious lunch prepared by Friedemann’s wife, Andrea, an Urgent Care physician, in the charming garden of their lovely home.

In the evening at the invitation of Dr. Marcus Friedrich, I delivered the sermon at services in the magnificent St. Nickolai-kirche, the largest cathedral in Flensburg. 

Dr. Marcus Friedrich and I at the conclusion of the service in the Nikolai-kirche in Flensburg

After the service a young couple, the woman from Ireland and the man from Israel asked if I would say a blessing for their infant son. I was deeply moved by their request and was happy to do so.

Offering a blessing for this couples infant son

On Monday, I presented a program run at the Catholic Church in Flensburg. The organizer of the program, Claudia Linker, who wrote a generous endorsement on the back cover of And Often the First Jew, skillfully translated my remarks into German.

Tuesday during the day Vickie and I taught a wonderful group of HS students at the Tast Gymnasium in Flensburg. Then in the evening Rita and Horst drove us to Kiel for the fourth of seminar sessions I am conducting on “Revelation in Jewish Thought.” After the seminar Pastor Martin Pommerening drove us back to Bad Segeberg where we tumbled into bed with wonderful memories of a fulfilling trip and in eager anticipation of a “day off” Wednesday. 

Nightfall in Husum

Back to Neumünster

Neumünster is where it all began in 2014 for Vickie and me here in Germany.

Since that time we have visited the Holstenschule, the academic school in that city some 20 times. Yesterday among the eleventh graders we addressed were several,who remembered us from when we spoke to their lower school grade five years ago.

Today we return to address another group of upper school students on the “Persecution of Jews ” in the Nazi era.

Yesterday we were asked:

“Do you still fear anti-Semitism?

“Yes,” I answered.

Anti-Semitism is a disease not like Polio, which we can cure, but like arthritis which we only hope to control.

It takes many forms. Among them:

Political — Jew control the government

Economic — the Jews control international banking.

Religious — the Jews killed Jesus

Racial — the Jews mutate an inferior gene pool and must be exterminated. That is the origin of the word, “genocide.” Sociologists coined this word to try to describe what Hitler attempted to do to us Jews: extirpate our polluted gene pool.

There can be no doubt. Anti-Semitic acts are on the rise in Germany in other places in Europe and in the United States.

Do I still fear anti-Semitism?

We all should!

Do I feel we do any good in Neumünster?

I hope so, but one thing is sure. We must keep,trying.

My Theology in One Tee Shirt

My Theology in one Tee Shirt


“And God said …”

Then all the scientific stuff

“And there was light.”

In other words:

Genesis does NOT tell us HOW the world was created.

But it tells us a great deal about WHY.

  • However it was done God initiated it
  • It was not an accident. The creation of the world is purposeful and meaningful.
  • Therefore our lives have (or at least they should have) purpose and meaning.
  • We are the only creatures created “in God’s image.” That does not mean we look like God. It means we have the most power to affect our environment and the quality of life in society for better or ill.
  • Once each week we need a day to step back and think: “How am I using my talents to make a better world.

Yes Genesis tells an awful lot about WHY we are here and what God wants from us!

Martin Answers God’s Call

Pastor Martin Pommerening

After 31 years of dedicated leadership of the Versöhnerkirche in Bad Segeberg, Germany Pastor Martin Pommerening, like Abraham of old has heard and heeded God’s call:

Go forth!” (GN 12:1)

He has accepted the position as Pastor of the St Peter and St Paul Church in Bad Oldesloe.

I consider it a great personal honor that Martin, with the approval of the Propst (Dean of Regional Pastors) Dr. Daniel Havemann has invited me to participate both in his service of farewell in Bad Segeberg and in his inaugural service in Bad Oldesloe.

 At the age of 61, it is not easy to begin a new pastorate. But Martin is so filled with enthusiasm and energy for the new challenge that awaits him; one has to believe he will be successful.

For me, Martin is a role model for what a spiritual leader should be.

He is a man of deep faith and great wisdom. Most importantly he cares deeply about people and their well-being.

Vickie and I have known Martin for five years now. We have been guests in his home for extended periods during each of those five years. There is no end to what Martin has done and continues to do to make our stays comfortable and productive.

I have no doubt whatsoever that the new church he will lead in Bad Oldesloe will be greatly blessed by his ministry.