Contributors to this issue:
Statement of Purpose of the UJC Rabbinic Cabinet
Stephen H. Hoffman, UJC President and CEO and James S. Tisch, Chairman of the Board,
Rabbi Harold J. Berman, Chair, UJC Rabbinic Cabinet
Rabbi Eric M. Lankin, UJC Director of Religious and Educational Activities
Rabbi Saul I. Teplitz, Rabbi Emeritus, Sons of Israel, Woodmere, NY
Rabbi J. Leonard Romm, Rabbi Emeritus, Bellmore Jewish Center, Bellmore, NY
The Teshuvah of Rosh Hashanah, From the teachings of Rabbi J.B. Soloveitchik, zt"l
Rabbi Eliezer Havivi, Beth David Synagogue, Greensboro, NC
Rabbi Arthur Waskow, The Shalom Center, Philadelphia, PA
Rabbi Alan W. Miller, Rabbi Emeritus, Society for the Advancement of Judaism, NY, NY
Rabbi Simeon J. Maslin, Rabbi Emeritus, Keneseth Israel, Elkins Park, PA
Rabbi Shammai Engelmayer, Temple Israel Community Center, Cliffside Park, NJ
Rabbi Brian Strauss, Congregation Beth Yeshurun, Houston, TX
Rabbi Kenneth Bromberg, Rabbi Emeritus, Congregation Beth Shalom, Clearwater, FL
Rabbi Kerry M. Olitzky, Executive Director, Jewish Outreach Institute, NY, NY
Prayer for Israel and the Israel Defense Forces
Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt, Congregation B'nai Tzedek, Potomac, MD
James S. Tisch
Stephen H. Hoffman
United Jewish Communities Rabbinic Cabinet
111 Eighth Avenue, Suite 11E, New York, NY 10011-5201
Phone: 212.284.6513 Email: email@example.com
The mission of the UJC Rabbinic Cabinet is to unite rabbis of all ideologies in the work of kiyum hauma and tzedakah, acquaint and involve the North American rabbinate with the goals and activities of the UJC, and to bring the talents, resources, and perspectives of the rabbinate to the UJC and its UJA-Federation Annual Campaign.
The cabinet serves as the rabbinic arm of the UJC, the major agency of North American Jewry for tzedakah. It promotes the unity of the Jewish people in its efforts to support the needs of Jews everywhere by including rabbis from every movement in North American Jewish life.
The Rabbinic Cabinet further seeks to inform colleagues about the most current developments in Jewish life, the needs of our people, and the techniques for effective utilization of rabbinic leadership within local communities. In addition, the Rabbinic Cabinet endeavors to apprise the lay Jewish leadership with the concerns of the rabbinate, infuse Jewish values and content into the annual and special campaigns of local federations, and serve Israel and the Jewish people with rabbinical involvement and support.
1. Raise the level of knowledge about the UJC in the rabbinate and community.
2. Stimulate and support rabbinic participation in, and relationships with, UJC and local federations.
3. Assist with and participate in UJC's UJA-Federation Annual Campaign by enlarging the scope and intensity of synagogue involvement.
4. Upgrade rabbinic giving and increase rabbinic solicitations.
5. Identify new donors, leaders and major gifts.
6. Develop programs and educational materials about Israel and the Jewish tradition.
7. Serve as teachers and spiritual resources to the leadership and constituencies of UJC, local federations, and the Jewish community.
8. Serve as a forum for the discussion and resolution of important Jewish issues.
9. Recognize exemplary service of rabbis in the UJA-Federation Annual Campaign.
STANDARDS FOR MEMBERSHIP
Members of the Rabbinic Cabinet should:
1. Be involved in local federation and campaign activities.
2. Work in harmony with local colleagues.
3. Pledge at least $1000 to the Annual Campaign.
4. Try to participate in a UJC mission.
5. Attend the Annual Meeting of the Rabbinic Cabinet and/or regional conferences and special meetings.
Once, before Rosh Hashana, the pious Rabbi Elimelekh of Lizhensk (18th century) was sitting and worrying:"How shall I face the Omnipresent on the Judgment Day? Have I not committed many transgressions?" And he continued to reckon them over one by one, as was his holy way. And in the end he said:-" Well, then, my broken heart will stand me in good stead on the Judgment Day."
as told by S.Y.Agnon in "Days of Awe."
We stand before God with broken hearts this year, mindful not only of our own transgressions but also of the transgressions of others against our common humanity. Rosh Hashana arrives a few days before we commemorate the first anniversary of the terrorist attacks of September 11. One year has passed, and we are still healing from the wounds inflicted on that day. As Jews, the difficulty of this healing process is compounded by more pain, as the violence in Israel continues. Hundreds of Israelis have been killed and thousands wounded in a horrific barrage of attacks that have left many to face the Omnipresent with broken hearts.
How can we find comfort in the High Holy days this year? As spiritual leaders, how can you console your congregants in such terrible times? During the Jewish New Year, it's important that we reflect not only on our transgressions but also on our accomplishments. And in this time of adversity, we have accomplished many things. As a Jewish community, we have responded to unprecedented needs with unprecedented unity and generosity. Jewish social-service agencies in the New York and Washington areas responded immediately after the September 11 attacks, providing financial help, temporary housing, counseling‚ and whatever else was needed. And the UJC Emergency Relief Fund raised more than $5 million to fund those efforts.
100,000 GATHER FOR ISRAEL SOLIDARITY
In early spring our many solidarity events culminated in more than 100,000 people
gathering in Washington D.C. for the biggest rally for Israel ever held in North America.
This impressive manifestation of unity was a spontaneous response to the violence being perpetrated against our brothers and sisters in the Promised Land. Also launched in April as a second-line campaign, the Israel Emergency Campaign prompted an outpouring of generosity that has made us all proud. We are grateful to to the UJC Rabbinic Cabinet for informing, inspiring, and mobilizing our communities. In April, 34 rabbis were among 165 who joined a solidarity mission to Argentina to show support to its Jewish community. During the Israel Emergency Campaign Solidarity Shabbat on June 14-15, rabbis from all over North America brought home to their communities the urgency of that campaign. Your help at the grassroots level has helped us achieve so much; and it is only with your help that we will achieve our goal of 100 percent participation.
When you stand before your congregants on the Yamim Noraim, we encourage you to help them see through their pain to the accomplishments we have achieved as a people throughout this year fraught with tragedy. Please share with them all that we have done to help Jews in need in Argentina, and to strengthen Israel's people, including the victims of terror. These acts of chesed have done much to redeem the past year. May we all be blessed with a truly sweet New Year.
Downtown Jerusalem in the '90's was a very cosmopolitan, international place, thronged with people of all ages, eating pizza at Sbarros, ice cream at Ben and Jerry's, and fried chicken from the Colonel's Kentucky recipe.
Some people lamented the Americanization. Others celebrated the "normalcy." And then we were reminded, again, as so often in our history, that Jews are not just like other people. Jews are viewed through a unique lens-in news articles at the United Nations, in academic circles, and in so many other settings. "Normal" accepted behavior by others is unacceptable when done by Jews.
We see different reactions to the killing of Jews and to the responses of Jews after our people are murdered. Palestinian gunmen take hostages as they run armed into a church in Bethlehem. But Jews are criticized as they wait patiently outside and compromise by allowing murderers to go free into "exile." And so the stories go.
As always, we have a choice, the same choices our ancestors made for centuries. We can bemoan our fate and become embittered by real injustices, or we can creatively celebrate the uniqueness that has preserved us through history.
We are a unique people. We are unique in generosity, in compassion, for our brothers and sisters, in loyalty to God through the worst of times, and in our conviction that we will survive the enemies that surround us. We are unique in refusing to succumb to historical forces that have removed so many others from history. And we thank God, every day, for what we are.
We will continue to survive. And those who understand know the tools that make survival possible. They include a commitment to each other and to our common humanity, a love of Zion, and confidence in the promises of our tradition. We will survive by refusing to abandon our people in time of need.
To be "normal" is not our goal. Our goal is to be Jews-to learn and celebrate-to support each other, and to strengthen our community. As rabbis, we will continue to teach the Torah that has been our life, to visit those in need, and to encourage those who have lost hope, wherever they may be.
May the year ahead be a year of hope and blessing, a year that brings us all closer to the dreams that have always sustained us.
On last spring's 165-member mission to Argentina that included 34 rabbis, I had a conversation at a JDC supported soup kitchen with three men waiting for lunch. They were sitting around a card table looking quite poor.
"Looking poor" was an unusual sight in Buenos Aires. Although the city's economic decline was dramatic, most Jews there were middle- or upper-class and still had nice clothes in their closets. The people at the JDC-sponsored soup kitchen were already close to destitution before their job opportunities evaporated in the most recent
My conversation was most unusual because my three table mates spoke beautiful Hebrew, the product of excellent Jewish education enjoyed by so many Jews in Buenos Aires (Argentina's day schools were among the jewels of Jewish education around the world). They shared their stories of hunger and despair, of closed factories and lack of cash, of humiliation and pain overshadowing their community's proud tradition. This conversation touched me and brought me back-spiritually-to my research in Rabbinical school many years ago. I wondered how a Jew could proclaim at the end of Birkat Hamazon, "Na'ar hayiti v'gam zakanti v'lo raiti tzadik ne'ezav-Once I was young, and now I am old, and I never saw a righteous person forsaken or his children begging for bread."(Psalm 37:25) Now many years later, didn't I see with my own eyes the similar suffering of Jews begging for bread in Buenos Aires?
I remember researching volumes of haggadot in the Jewish Theological Seminary Rare Book room, with many examples of Birkat Hamazon with this line in a smaller print. I wondered whether other Jews were also troubled by this verse?
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
I also recognized that "Naar hayiti," may be spiritually difficult but is no less difficult, than the first blessing of Birkat Hamazon, "Hazan et hakol" - that God provides food for all. If a Jew could say that God provides food for all and still there are starving people, then I guess you could also say "Na'ar hayiti."
A correct understanding is that both quotations from Birkat Hamazon are prophecy and dependent on human involvement. God does provide food for all, if only we would
better allocate our resources and not waste. Similarly, a better translation of "Na'ar hayiti" perhaps should be "Would that it were true that once I was young, and now I am old, and I never have seen the righteous forsaken and their children begging for bread!"
As we reflect on the past year, the UJC Rabbinic Cabinet, as leaders in the North American federation system, has worked to make that prophecy come true. We have witnessed and advocated for our suffering people in Argentina, in Israel, and around the world.
We have recommitted ourselves to help our fellow Jews in Israel during their current crisis. I pray that God gives us, as His partners, the spiritual strength to lead ourselves -and our people-to teshuvah, tefila, and tzedekah during the Yamim Noraim.
For Jews, the beginning of a new year is a challenge, a silent reminder of our shortcomings in the year that is over. We do not speak of a "new" year because, generally, the "new" year is not different from the "old" year. What is new is ourselves, our renewal. We are frequently brutish, selfish, deceitful, pleasure-hunting, and power-oriented. Therefore, we need cleansing, purging, and redeeming to be freed from the shackles of yesterday.
Eric Fromm, the eminent psychoanalyst, wrote, "The whole life of an individual is a process of giving birth to yourself."
I once saw a sign prominently displayed above a supermarket cash register that read: "Count Your Change." This reminder applies not only to cash. What we all need is not just a change of scene, but a change of spirit and soul as well.
The shofar notes parallel the process of introspection and resolve to do teshuvah that is inherent in this High Holy Day season.
Everyone thinks he is "whole." Honest analysis of what we have really been doing (or not doing) begins to break down our pride and arrogance. The truly sensitive and compassionate individual may reach the state of profound remorse, being really "broken up" over the shame of personal misdeeds. Only by reaching this state internally, or teruah, can a person seriously and honestly change and become whole.
These vicissitudes and tribulations, the ones that break us down, enable us to see more clearly things for what they really are, and only then can we readjust priorities in order of true importance. Only then can we become whole.
According to the Rambam, teshuvah has a well-defined and formulated structure.
It contains clear strata, involving recognition of sin, remorse, shame, and resolve (Rambam, Hilkhot Teshuvah 2:2). There are guideposts in prayer that lead one to engage in this process, as can be found in much of the Yom Kippur liturgy. Teshuvah is an all-encompassing activity, engaging man's logic, will, and emotion.
There is virtually no reference to sin and forgiveness in the Rosh Hashanah liturgy. There is no recitation of Selichot (penitential prayer) or vidui (confession). Many even have the custom of omitting the first verse of the petitionary prayer Avinu Malkenu, "Our Father, Our King, we have sinned before You."
What, then, is the overarching theme of Rosh Hashanah? If teshuvah is indeed thetheme, how can teshuvah take place without explicit reference to sin?
The answer is that on Rosh Hashanah a Jew is involved in a preliminary stage of teshuvah, called hirhur teshuvah (the "awakening" of teshuvah). In contrast to teshuvah, the process of hirhur teshuvah is amorphous and ill-defined. Yet, despite this lack of definition, hirhur teshuvah occupies a special place in Rabbinic thought.
For example, regarding marriage the Talmud states: "If one says, ‘I betroth you on the condition that I am righteous, even one who is [known to be] absolutely evil is considered betrothed, since perhaps he might be engaged in hirhur teshuvah in his heart" (Kiddushin 49b). This passage has traditionally posed a difficulty to the Rabbinic commentators. If teshuvah is indeed a multistep process, involving sin recognition, remorse, and resolve, how can an individual possibly be considered righteous after only a moment's thought? Only through hirhur teshuvah, which is spontaneous, instinctive, and sudden. In one second, an individual can live the jarring experience of awakening from spiritual somnolence.
Many mitzvot in the Torah involve an objective act coupled with a subjective component. The recitation of the Shema, for example, involves both a recitation, as well as the proper intention, namely accepting the yoke of the Kingdom of Heaven. The mitzvah of hearing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah has a similarly dual nature. One is not only obligated to hear the shofar blast, but he must also experience the jarring awakening associated with hirhur teshuvah.
What is the emotional experience of hirhur teshuvah? Rabbi Soloveitchik, known also as the Rav, said that while abstract concepts are often easily described, it is far more difficult to convey such a subjective emotional experience. He therefore felt reluctantly compelled to relate the following personal occurrence as an analogy to clarify this concept:
On the seventh day of Pesach, 5727 , I awoke from a fitful sleep. A thunderstorm was raging outside, and the wind and rain blew angrily through the window of my room. Half awake, I quickly jumped to my feet and closed the window. I then thought to myself that my wife was sleeping downstairs in the sun room next to the parlor, and I remembered that the window was left open there as well. She could catch pneumonia, which in her weakened physical condition would be devastating.
I ran downstairs, rushed into her room, and slammed the window shut. I then turned around to see whether she had awoken from the storm or if she was still sleeping. I found the room empty, the couch where she slept neatly covered.
In reality she had passed away the previous month.
The most tragic and frightening experience was the shock that I encountered in that half second when I turned from the window to find the room empty. I was certain that a few hours earlier I had been speaking with her, and that at about 10 o'clock she had said good night and retired to her room. I could not understand why the room was empty. I thought to myself, "I just spoke with her. I just said good night to her. Where is she?"
Every Jew is obligated to sustain similar emotions on Rosh Hashanah. The required response to the shofar, which the Rambam refers to as awakening from sleep, is the abrupt, tragic realization that the false assumptions upon which we build our lives have come crashing before our eyes. We are jolted with the sudden awareness of the grievous extent to which our actions have alienated us from God. Amidst panic of this experience, we have neither the intellectual nor the emotional fortitude to adequately express remorse, resolve, confession, or even prayer. We find ourselves alone, bereft of our illusions, terrified and paralyzed before God.
In the Book of Judges, the story is told of the decisive military defeat and the humiliating death of the pagan general Sisera at the hand of the Israelites. In a song of praise for this victory, the prophetess Deborah portrayed the mother of Sisera waiting at her window for her son's victorious return from the battle against the Israelites as he had indeed done so many times in the past (Judges 5:28). Yet, although overtly anticipating her son's triumphant return, in a deep recess of her heart Sisera's mother tragically sensed that this time he was, in fact, never coming home again. Tosafot states that we are obligated to hear a total of 100 shofar blasts on Rosh Hashanah, to parallel the 100 cries of Sisera's mother as she waited in vain at that window. Why does the story of a pagan mother awaiting her barbaric son form the halakhic basis for the required number of shofar sounds that are blown on Rosh Hashanah? Because upon hearing the piercing tones of the shofar, we must experience a similar emotion; as we awaken from spiritual complacency, we must witness our own illusions being relentlessly shattered.
This intense experience results in pahad, terror. Pahad overwhelms and paralyzes the individual, an experience described in the U'netaneh Tokef prayer: "And the great shofar will be sounded and a still, thin voice will be heard, and the angels shake, terror and trembling will seize them."
Excerpted with permission from Arnold Lustiger, "Before Hashem You Shall Be Purified: Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik on the Days of Awe," Ohr Publishing, Edison, NJ (1998), p.6-10.
What struck me most about my recent visit to Buenos Aires was how similar its Jewish community is to ours. Jews there look like us. They dress like us. We have similar shuls; their children look and dress and act like ours. And if our grandparents had turned further south, we would be there, too. Until recently, Argentina boasted a vibrant and active Jewish community, with 220,000 Jews living in the capital, Buenos Aires.
Most Ashkenazic Jews came to South America in the late 19th century, and became economically independent. They are teachers, professionals, businesspeople, and storeowners. What began as a chevra kadisha, in which Jews sold and managed burial plots in Jewish cemeteries, became AMIA-a strong, centralized federation. Because Argentina is strongly Roman Catholic, its Jews opened and sent their children to Hebrew day schools, youth organizations, and they founded a seminary-the Seminario Rabbinico Latino Americano. There they trained rabbis and cantors and teachers and educated Jewish lay people. Jews in Argentina mirrored the general community. They were affluent, lived well, traveled, and built institutions. They became rooted. In its best years, the Jewish communty sent between $10 million and $12 million annually to Keren HaYesod, which raises funds for Israel outside the U.S. They embraced Zionism by sending their children to Israel to study, and some 60,000 eventually settled there.
ATTACKS THREATEN JEWISH LIFE
But there were setbacks, including the 1992 bombing that severely damaged the Israeli Embassy, and two years later, the attack on the AMIA building, a bombing that tore a physical and spiritual hole in the heart of this community. Some 39 employees and visitors died, including Suzy Kreiman, the wife of my friend, and our colleague, Angel Kreiman-Brill.
Then there were the riots late last year that toppled the government and turned Buenos Aires's stately boulevards into urban battlegrounds. They resulted from rapidly deteriorating economic conditions that have devastated this once prosperous community. The result has been a significant decrease in philanthropy, coupled with increased bankruptcies, severely straining local Jewish institutions.
Some believe that Argentina will recover, and are willing to weather the storm. Others feel there is no future in Argentina. And for sure, they have reason for doubt. But I have faith in this community's survival. That faith stems from the collective Jewish responsibility that reflects who we are as a community. It is a community that cares for one another and channels that concern in both financial and political support. It is a community willing to lend voice and body to assist endangered Jews anywhere.
Paraphrasing Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, the 20th century theologian and philosopher, "Tzedakah may not save us, but it makes us worth saving."
Such thoughts assume particular poignancy this High Holiday season.
On Rosh Hashanah we read two awesome stories of Avraham‘s sons (Gen. 20 and 21). But we do not read the fulfillment of the two stories:
"Avraham died ... and Yitzchak and Yishmael his sons buried him." (Gen. 25: 9) This is the only time in the great saga of our founding families that the Torah speaks of them together, calling them both Avraham‘s sons.
Yishmael, whose name means "God will listen," is Avraham's son with Hagar ("the stranger"). God has promised to listen to his outcry - and did, after his father has exiled him and he lies stranded, dying in the desert.
Yitzchak, whose name means "He will laugh," is Avraham's son with Sarah ("Queen"). His parents laughed in disbelief when they were promised him, and laughed again in joy when he was born. But he himself, the one whose father bound him as an offering and raised the knife above him, never laughs.
We almost see the two boys in relationship - but only through Sarah's eyes. Just after Isaac's weaning feast, "Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, whom she had borne to Avraham, making laughter." The verb here, miTzaCheK, mirrors the word and meaning of YiTzChaK's name. Yishmael has somehow tuned in to Yitzchak's very essence, and turns his hidden laughter into public mimicry. Or so says Sarah, and she demands the banishment of the boy and his mother.
A CLOUDED PICTURE
What is so grievous about this "mitzachek"? To Sarah it seems the two boys are far more alike than different; thus they must not grow up together-for in each other they will see a clouded mirror-and an image of themselves.
Upon Avraham's death, each son has lived for many years knowing that he -their father!-sent them to the brink of death.
Have they come together just to bury the Old Man and get back to their separate lives? No: the story continues, "Now it was after Avraham's death, that God blessed Yitzchak his son. And Yitzchak settled by Be'er Lachai Ro'i, the Well of the Living -One Who-sees-me."
This is the well that Hagar named and from which she drank not only once but perhaps twice, the second time with Yishmael.
For Yitzchak to be blessed with a peaceful life at the well associated with the life of Yishmael, something must have happened at Avraham's graveside. Imagine their conversation:
The older brother speaks: "All these years, I've missed you. I only came to the Old Man's funeral because I knew you would be here. As for the Old Man, I've feared and hated him. He would have let me die. And the way he treated my mother! - 'the Egyptian stranger,' he called her. For that contempt, God tells me, his offspring-your offspring, brother!-must serve as strangers in the land of Egypt. May it be that from that service you will learn to know the heart of the stranger, as the Old Man never knew my mother's heart!"
And Yitzchak answers: "And I've missed you. I could never understand why you were ripped out of my life. I too, feared the Old Man-he came to the brink of killing me. And I blamed you. I always thought he took me to that mountain because he was filled with guilt over exiling you. He thought he had to treat us equally."
"You blamed me!-How amazing! For to tell the truth, I blamed you too. For your sake, your mother said, she had us exiled. All these years, we've turned our fear of the Old Man into distrust of each other.-But now, thank God, we've reconnected! I would be honored if you would come to live with me a while."
"That would be a blessing in my life."
For millennia, on Rosh Hashanah, Jews have read how Avraham brought both sons to near death. We need to read on Yom Kippur the story of their reunion and imagine their reconciliation. Perhaps we need to exchange visits with the children of Yishmael, sharing our different versions of that ancient story and of our suffering.
Perhaps together we can bring forth Be'er Lachai Ro'i, the Well of the Living-One Who-sees-me. We might not only hear but see each other. And laugh out loud at the harsh joke that God has played upon us: blessing us with a covenant-connection with this troubled land so filled with promises.
Judaism may evolve but one ancient yet topical liturgical theme reverberates throughout the Jewish year.
It is a theme of commitment and responsibility to ourselves, to our loved ones, and to the Jewish and human world at large. If we grow and change each year ourselves, however, we will assuredly find new meaning in the eternal themes. Our sacred texts are in no small measure some species of Rohrschach. A great deal depends on what we bring to them.
When I was a little boy, my father would take me to the synagogue on the afternoon before Yom Kippur, and there at the synagogue door were two tables. These tables were set up only on that one afternoon. When we returned for Kol Nidre two or three hours later, they would be gone.
A dozen large soup plates were carefully arranged on those tables, beneath each a paper that explained the needs of the "Alef" Orphanage, the "Beit" Hospital, the "Gimmel" Old Folks Home, the "Daled" Soup Kitchen, etc.
My father would suggest I read the various appeals, and then he would give me a handful of change. (By the time I was ten or so, I knew enough to bring along a few nickels and dimes of my own.) My task was to apportion the coins in the plates I chose. And I chose carefully, because occasionally my father would ask me why I had chosen this particular tzedakah and omitted another. And I knew he wanted a good answer. You see, even nickels and dimes did not come to us easily in the late 1930's.
Upon my Bar Mitzvah, I knew that prayer would come to me more easily because of this pre-Yom Kippur ritual. The prayerbook teaches us to approach God "with clean hands and a pure heart." Somehow I felt that my hands were cleaner and purer by virtue of this act.
And so, dear friends, a reminder: As North American Jews, most of us do not have to count our nickels and dimes.
We can admit, without embarrassment, that our affluence as a community is unprecedented. And affluence, after all, is not a sin. Clearly, Judaism does not condemn wealth, but Judaism does condemn irresponsible and insensitive use of wealth.
In other words, prayer will come more easily to you on Yom Kippur (and it will be much more meaningful for your children or grandchildren) if you make it a sacred obligation-a Mitzvah-to give something extra to people in need at this time of year.
In the world of political realities, history is made of the present no less than the past; and for Jews in Israel and elsewhere, no bond provides a greater link to their past, present, and future than their attachment to Jerusalem.
I feel these sentiments when hearing the blasts of the shofar, underscoring the solemnity of the High Holy Days, but also the peoplehood of Israel. The shofar, which can be made out of any kosher animal's horn, is commonly referred to as a "ram's horn." The ram is the preferred horn of choice because it replaced Isaac on the altar. The aborted sacrifice of Isaac occurred on Mount Moriah, which tradition maintains is the Temple Mount. Thus, the blast of the shofar memorializes a pivotal event in the history of Israel and in God's choice of Israel as his ahm segulah.
That peoplehood was put to the test on June 5, 1967, on the start of the Six-Day War. And it experienced its greatest moment two days later with the capture of the Old City. Within weeks after the war, Israel annexed Jerusalem by formally reuniting it under its rule. For 19 years Israelis had survived well enough in their half of the city, and had been able to live with it, in tension but not in fear, accustomed to the sight of cement roadblocks and dividing walls, the waste and rubble of no man‘s land under the lookouts of the Jordanian Legion.
LIVING A HALF DREAM
But they were not unmindful that their part of Jerusalem was not the Jerusalem of Jewish dreams. Now that Jerusalem was in their hands, and it would be difficult to part from again.
The Jewish people had lived a half-life from 70 CE until 1948, unconnected to its body or its soul. In 1948, it was reunited with its body; the reunification of Jerusalem in 1967 gave the Jewish people back their soul.
The reunification of Jerusalem was a signal and profound experience both for those who liberated it and for all of Israeli youth-indeed, especially for the youth, who with this experience rediscovered the historic roots and associations of their people.
For me personally, this identification with the Jewish world acquired a further dimension through Israel's presence at the Temple Mount, the site of Abraham's trial by ordeal and of the Holy Temple. I was returning to my base from a weekend furlough when my unit arranged a quick tour of Jerusalem. It was now 1983 and we were at war in Lebanon. Why was I wasting my time touring the Old City, I thought.
Then it became clear. This was the place where my present and my past merged, where I began to understand my fellow Israelis' sorrow about being so near and yet so far away.
It mattered little whether I believed or not: the indissoluble connection, the overpowering bond was there. Empathy on this account found strong expression among friends and colleagues, including secularists who fought in the 1967 war and felt for the first time that they were Jews as well as Israelis; they all flocked to the Western Wall for inspiration.
To some, what emerged was a kind of religious sentimentality, a nostalgic affection for the traditions and rituals they no longer observed, but remembered from the homes of their parents or grandparents. But it encouraged many others, to whom the salvation of Israel after the threat of another Holocaust appeared as a supernatural event, to return to the Jewish faith.
Jerusalem is a metaphor for modern Israel's determination to survive and flourish against all odds. Israel's rebirth, as Abba Eban noted, was a great and noble adventure, as refugees, immigrants, and sabras came together in a "great sweep of historical continuity."
The future of Jerusalem as Israel's united and open capital safeguards that continuity. It is unthinkable that Jews would willingly part with that which made them whole.
Of all the ancient customs in Judaism, the ones related to Sukkot probably are the most embarrassing for some modern Jews. A case in point are the ludicrous rituals associated with the festival, such as waving palm branches decorated with willows and myrtle, and connected with the world's most expensive "lemon," the citron.
Then there is the experience of sitting outside on a cold autumn night, eating elegant dinners in shabbily constructed shelters with insufficient space and uncomfortable chairs, and leaves dropping into the soup.
Israelites never dwelt in booths, but in tents. And the evidence is as clear as the night sky above the sukkah that this festival came relatively late and its Exodus connection was forced.
How can we cling to such absurdities and call ourselves modern? Still, that is the wrong question. How can we not cling to them is far more appropriate.
PROVIDING A NATURAL ORDER
Sukkot does not belong to the ancient world, just as Shabbat does not. Rather, the seven days of Sukkot may be the most important seven days on the Jewish calendar precisely because of its rituals. Sukkot, above all else, is about the natural order of the world and the Creator whose word caused it all to come into being.
We live in an age when people get their e-mail streaming into devices nestled in their coat pockets and where one can sit on a beach and still answer memos, write reports, and participate in business conferences. There is no escape from the workday world, and technology, rather than simplifying our lives, only complicates them further.
We are so far removed from the real world that it is only half in jest that my wife suggested changing "who brings forth the bread from the earth" to "who brings forth the bread from the bread machine." Bread comes from the earth, not a machine, but only if we understand the process by which seeds of wheat become slices of pumpernickel.
There is a world out there that goes underappreciated and undervalued. Sukkot-like Shabbat-forces us to recognize that world and how much we still need it. This festival forces us to consider nature as part of our very being; indeed, as part of the essence of our being.
Shabbat is probably the most environmentally protective day. It demands that we forego technology and smell the roses. Sukkot brings that message home for an entire week and adds layers to it by interconnecting species and then putting us in the midst of once-living things and insisting that we dwell therein, as part of it all. (That technology has compromised even this-with canvas and fiberglass booths, and bamboo mats replacing ferns and leafy branches as covering-only demonstrates how sorely needed is this message of Sukkot.)
I believe there is nothing antiquated or embarrassing about Sukkot. In fact, there is much that is quite modern and appealing about it, just as there is much that is modern and appealing about Torah law in general. We just need to open our eyes and our minds a bit wider, and take the blinders off, to see the truths that are still to be found there.
Have you recently heard people question U.S. support for Israel? Lately, some have asked me, "Why does America need to give so much financial, military, and political aid to Israel? Perhaps if we had nothing to do with Israel, there would have been no September 11th!"
How do we respond to such a question? First, we must remind them that America gains much by its support. Despite the end of the Cold War, Israel remains involved in joint efforts to protect American interests, and strategic cooperation has progressed to the where a de facto alliance now exists.
Today, the U.S. Navy 6th Fleet uses Haifa as one of its ports. Israel's medical facilities stand on call for American soldiers now fighting in Afghanistan. Israeli intelligence provides unprecedented help in America's fight against terror. The hallmark of this relationship is consistency and trust.
This relationship with Israel provides much more than security for our country.
Nearly 400 American institutions in 47 states have received funds from binational programs with Israel. In 2000, Israel was America's 20th leading trade partner! Some of America's largest companies, including IBM, Microsoft, Motorola, Intel, and McDonald's, do significant business in Israel.
I believe that there are also spiritual reasons for this relationship. We read in Parashat Lekh L'kha one of God's blessings to Abraham, "I will bless those who bless you, and curse him that curses you; And all of the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you (Genesis 12:3)." What does this mean? The great 19th century German rabbi Samson Raphael Hirsch wrote that God meant the following, "I will bless each nation in accordance with the respect it shows the Jewish spirit."
I feel that one of the reasons that God blessed America with so much freedom and prosperity is because of its strong support for Israel. Last April, I traveled to the White House with my wife's family for Holocaust Remembrance Day. At dinner, I had the honor of delivering a speech that espoused this interpretation of God's blessing to Abraham. After finishing my talk, our President and First Lady were visibly affected by this idea. They then articulated their affirmation for America's support of Israel. It was truly a moment that I will never forget.
Like other presidents before him, Mr.Bush has been a strong supporter of Israel. And polls mirror that sentiment. But, some today question that support. That is where we come in. When we are clear about our reasons for supporting Israel (whether for physical or spiritual reasons), I believe that most of these Americans will also see the importance of a strong Israel.
Modern Israel has faced its share or danger: spring of 1948, spring 1967, fall 1973, and now today. More than ever, Israel needs us to "spread the word" as we have done in the past. I urge all of us to speak with our colleagues at work and to write to our lawmakers, government officials, and newspaper editors.
Eleanor Roosevelt used to say, "The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams." I still believe in the beauty of the Zionist dream. It's up to us to lend our voice and support to keep that dream alive.
It has been often said that the opposite of love is hate. However, the opposite of love is indifference. What love and hate have in common is a passionate interest in the object of our love or our hate. We are never cool and detached about those we love-or those we hate. Like the magnifying glass that focuses the sun's light onto paper or wood, causing the substance to ignite, so either great love or consuming hatred fires the emotions-for good or for ill. Thus, love and hate are not opposite but kindred emotions. When those who care deeply about each other are in conflict and show their annoyance or anger, they will, for a time, ignore each other; not speak to each other; act indifferently to one another. If the relationship is a truly loving one, then such emotional separation will soon become unbearable and impel the lovers to reconcile their conflict and restore their love and their lives.
It is hard to tell whether modern Jews love God or not. Are today's Jews actively aware of what our prayers signify when, just before sh'ma yisrael, we recite, "Deep is Your love for us, Lord our God, boundless Your tender compassion...," and just after sh'ma yisrael, we are enjoined to reciprocate that love of God with all your heart, soul and might?
It is not, has v'halilah, that we hate God. Worse than hating God, we are cool toward God-detached from Him, indifferent to Him. If we love God, or we scorn God, we are engaged by Him. However, for many contemporary Jews, it is neither of these; it is, rather, that we are aloof from God. The Hebrew writer Hillel Zeitlin (born 1872, murdered Rosh Hashanah eve, 1944, at Treblinka), posed the issue with poetic vigor in these words:
"Praise me, says God
and I will know that you love me.
Curse me, says God,
and I will know that you love me.
Praise me or curse me
And I will know that you love me."
From the beginning of the Hebrew month of Elul, we undergo deep self-reflection, part of our spiritual preparation for the coming High Holidays.
Psalms are read. Prayers are said. At the height of this introspective period, we stay up late on the Saturday just prior to Rosh Hashanah and offer prayers of supplication called Selichot. Reflecting on the previous year, we vow to change negative behaviors and make amends with those we've offended. The process culminates on Yom Kippur, when our families spend the day in synagogue, atoning for our sins and hopefully coming out refreshed and renewed, for another year. Still, our efforts to make amends often go unrealized. Those who need our rapprochement are probably not even among the family invited to join us in synagogue, or if they do join us, they may be subjected to unwelcome
messages from the pulpit and the pew.
Who are these people? They are the intermarried members of our family-
individuals not born into Judaism but who have often cast their lots with our own.
Many are spiritual seekers like us, inspired by our tradition. Isn't there enough room in our synagogues-and in our hearts-to let them partake in this rich and joyous experience?
Recently, several families related painful stories to us. These were not your average three-day-a-year Jews, but dedicated leaders of the Jewish community.
They wanted their intermarried children to share their connection to the community. They considered their synagogue family, and felt disappointed and embarrassed when that family closed its door to intermarried couples. The very institutions that they had led and financially supported rejected these individuals. And it hurt. They feared that the young couples would lose their enthusiasm for Judaism and community involvement.
A CLOSED DOOR
We gently helped these leaders understand their role-perhaps unintentional-in helping shape these attitudes. And thus changing them must begin with our own families-and ourselves. We can ask, "How might I have been (unknowingly) offensive to my interfaith family members? What specifically can I do to make them feel more welcome?"
The High Holidays are about truth. They're about recognizing our behaviors and attempting to change them. So no more jokes about "the goyim." No more comments like, "funny he doesn't look Jewish," or worse, "she looks like a skiksa." No more sermons about intermarriage "finishing Hitler's job for him." And let's eschew the sprinkling of Yiddishisms as if they were some secret codes to make us feel superior. If our goal is inclusion, then our work begins now.
Don't wait another year to begin the process of cheshbon hanefesh (an accounting of the soul). Reach out to interfaith couples, be they family or friends. Share your holidays with them.
As befits this season of reflection and renewal, ask them for forgiveness for calling them "other"-even as you forgive yourself for doing so. And ask the rabbis of synagogues whose guests may include interfaith couples to reflect a note of welcome in their sermons. Then maybe this can really be a new New Year.
From "Vaani Tefilati " published by the Masorti Movement and Rabbinical Assembly of Israel.
Prayer written by Rabbi Simchah Roth, translated by Rabbi Eric M. Lankin
May the One who blessed our Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and our Matriarchs, Sarah, Rebecca, Rachel and Leah, bless the State of Israel. May His sovereignty be revealed upon the Land that He swore to our ancestors to give to us.
Dear God, extend Your mercy on the leaders of the State. May they be worthy to build and establish her eternally in law and righteousness. Place the spirit of unity and love of our fellow Jews in their hearts and ours, wherever we may live, and together may we be dedicated to Your will with a full heart.
Lord of Hosts, God of Israel, protect the soldiers of the Israel Defense Forces. Save them from all trouble and distress and bless them with success in all their tasks. May they go in peace and return to their homes and loved ones with the blessings of life and peace.
Divine Parent in heaven, grant peace to the land and everlasting joy to all her inhabitants. As the Prophet Jeremiah said (Jer. 30:10) "And the people of Jacob shall be tranquil and calm with none to trouble them."
Manifest for us speedily in our time, that which is written in Scripture (Micah 4:4): "Every man shall sit under his grapevine or fig tree with no one to disturb him."
Spread your shelter of peace over all who dwell upon Your Earth and may this be Your will and we say, Amen.
United Jewish Communities Rabbinic Cabinet for Yamim Noraim 5763
There will be times when the words and prayers we recite this year assume a special, unanticipated poignancy in the aftermath of last year's tragedy.
One such example is an interesting passage I always considered somewhat quaint-that we pray for the residents of the Sharon Valley, that their homes not become their graves. As we mourn the loss of people whose offices became their graves, these words have new meaning.
So this is my message to you as we usher in this evening these Yamim Noraim, the Days of Awe. Pray with all your heart, and all your might, and listen to the words, let them enter your heart.
A Different Type Of Blessing
I recall a funeral I conducted last year. After we finished the service and placed the dirt on the coffin, while still at the graveside, an elderly woman stepped forward to say a few words. It was most unusual. She did not even ask permission to talk. She just started speaking. She wanted us to know what a blessing it was to have a funeral, a proper
burial, with friends and family in attendance. How fortunate this individual was to be laid to rest in accordance with Jewish customs and rituals.
The remarks were puzzling. But not if you knew that both the person who spoke and the one whom we had just buried were both Holocaust survivors. She explained that so many Jews never had a proper burial, and that their graves are unknown. Their loved ones were not with them to perform the mitzvah of hesed shel emet, the final act of kindness that a proper burial provides. She said how fortunate this person was to live to see his children and his children's children, to know and enjoy the freedom offered by this land, and to have a grave.
I never thought about a grave and a burial as a blessing.
As we remember the brave firefighters who lost their lives rushing in to save others, of the people who perished in the destruction of the buildings, as well as the planes that crashed and whose remains are buried in the ashes and debris-we mourn their loss and understand this woman's words.
As we enter the Days of Awe, may we be grateful for the blessings we enjoy, and may the prayers of our people be a source of comfort.
Get On Board!
Annual Rabbinic Cabinet Mission to Paris and Israel
Jan. 26 to Feb. 3, 2003
Contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Wednesday, Nov. 20 to Friday, Nov. 22 , 2002
UJC Rabbinic Cabinet Annual Meeting at the General Assembly, Philadelphia, PA.