Lights in the Forest

•August 20, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Friends, I am so excited to announce the publication next week of the new book “Lights in the Forest” by CCARPress. Edited by Rabbi Paul Citrin, I have contributed to this important anthology which has several essays about theological and philosophical questions.  This time of year as we prepare for the Jewish High Holy Days we begin to ponder questions of life’s meaning and our role in the world.  This timely book offers much food for thought as we reflect on the world, humanity, good and evil, God, healing our world-Tikkun Olam, sin and repentance and renewal.  I hope you will consider ordering it.  

Here is a link to an interview the editor to whet your appetite!    

•August 19, 2014 • Leave a Comment

@USATODAY shame on ur headline writer. Hamas/Terrorists launched attack against Israel and broke the ceasefire. Not Israel. #IsraelUnderFire

Thoughts for the police in Ferguson

•August 19, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Below is my sermon from this past Friday night.  The police and government of the city of Ferguson, Mo. could learn a lot about policing from the changes that happened in Los Angeles. 

Shabbat Shalom!

It was 45 years ago today that the most iconic music festival began. In the summer of 1969 in upstate NY Woodstock would begin.  32 bands- billed as” An Aquarian Exposition: 3 Days of Peace & Music”.” 80,000 people were expected; 400,000 showed up to Max Yasgur’s farm in the Catskills.  400,000 people mostly peaceful, sliding in the mud, walking barefoot, tripping on acid, became part of one of the most iconic moment of the 1960’s and as Rolling Stone magazine said, one of the 50 most important moments that changed Rock n’ Roll.

Those seemed like more care-free days.  When we could gather, and listen to music for hours on end.

But in truth that counterculture experience was just that –counter-the –culture of a violent war in Vietnam and a Cold War that cast a dark shadow over most of the world.  Not really much different in 45 years.  During our time too-a dangerous virus of terrorism wracks the Middle East from Gaza to Syria to Iraq in the guise of ISIS and and Hamas.  Relations are colder than ever between the US and Russia.

And in our own country we watch helplessly as St. Louis, Mo erupts night after night in violent protest of a seemingly excessive use of force against a young black man.  Race relations in this country haven’t moved very far from the late 60’s until now in many places in our country.

Tonight on this Shabbat it is good to take a look at our assumptions about race and color.  We all need to be reminded that color of our skin must not be the filter of the way we treat others.  Inside we are all the same color. 

It was 50 years ago this summer that Freedom Riders came south to help register black voters.  And 50 years ago this year that a group of rabbis   were arrested in St. Augustine Florida, protesting on behalf of black Americans.  One of those Rabbi Richard Levy, one of my teachers will be speaking at Kol Ami later this fall about that experience and his role in the civil rights movement.

But now as we Jews are in the sacred time of looking toward the New Year, these are the weeks we begin the process of examining our lives, our strengths and our weaknesses.  We try to learn from the past to build a new future in a new year.  This same process is good not only for people but for institutions

It’s not surprising to me that as Anti-Semitism rears its ugly head that racism is infecting our country.  For they go hand in hand.  Anyone who is perceived as other—Jews, Blacks, Latinos, immigrants by the society at large is often subject to discrimination.   The problem here is that it is institutionalized. And so you have an entire police force in Ferguson, Mo. That clearly is ill equipped spiritually and emotionally to understand the symbolism of a mostly all white police force policing a majority African American community.  We here in Los Angeles learned this too the hard way.

The riots and revolt in 1991 as part of the Rodney King case, changed the way the LAPD did policing.  First the finding of the Christopher Commission urged serious changes in policing. This was followed by another report 5 years later that reviewed some of the changes including a new police chief at the time and noted a reduction in crime and use of excessive force. Yet it acknowledged that there were still within the LAPD problems around race and gender.  The Rampart Corruption Case put the LAPD over the edge. 

And finally, “after a series of lengthy negotiations, the City of Los Angeles and the U.S. Department of Justice agreed to enter into a consent decree on November 3, 2000, which allowed for federal oversight of the L.A.P.D. reform process for a period of five years. In exchange, the Justice Department, which had been investigating the L.A.P.D. since 1996 for excessive force violations, agreed not to pursue a threatened lawsuit against the city.”  (http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/shows/lapd/later/decree.html)

The Rampart case is often referred to as the worst police scandal in modern U.S. history. It involved the investigation of 70 to 100 LAPD officers following reports of widespread corruption within an anti-gang unit in the department in the late 1990s.

“Terms of the Decree were negotiated between the city and the DOJ, and included emphasis on management and supervisory measures to promote civil rights integrity, integrity audits, community outreach and other training.

In July 2009, U.S. District Judge Gary Feess granted the joint request of the United States and the City of Los Angeles to terminate the Decree.” (http://losangeles.cbslocal.com/2013/05/16/civil-rights-consent-decree-over-lapd-lifted-after-almost-12-years/)   This changed the culture of the LAPD and the way in which policing is done here in Los Angeles.

Now the Sheriff’s Department is under similar investigation. 

And certainly it seems the Ferguson, Mo. Police department should be under similar investigation.

It is time to learn from the past.  And time for not only the people of St. Louis, Missouri to demand an examination of the way the police do business in their neighborhoods but it is all of our responsibilities to hold our police accountable. 

Not all police are problem. Not all deputies are racists.  Not all cops are on an ego trip.  To the contrary our Sheriff’s department here in West Hollywood trains the deputies that serve here in all kinds of sensitivity training and diversity training. 

But citizen oversight of police goes hand in hand with demanding police be trained to de-escalate situations, not through use of force but through other means and tactics. 

Perhaps Mike Brown would still be alive if the Ferguson, Mo police force had been trained that way.

I wish sometimes we could return to the carefree-music filled summer of Woodstock; when we didn’t have to worry so much about race riots, anti-semitism and war in Israel and the Middle- East.  I wish the summer could be care-free and easy. But at least for now, let us take a few deep breaths, and drink in the Shabbat that comes to whisk away to eternal time and space.  Shabbat Shalom

Iron Dome the Miracle

•August 14, 2014 • Leave a Comment

 

Here are this week’s reflections as published in the Temple Newsletter this week: 

Call the White House and protest the change in policy as President Obama refused to re-supply Israel with missiles. This is dangerous for Israel at this time especially.  Call the White House Comment line  202-456-1111 to protest.  Normally these kinds of transfers are done between the Department of Defense and the IDF. Now the President has decided to review every transfer. And has stopped the resupply that Israel desperately needs as the Palestinians walked away again from the ceasefire talks in Egypt.  Israel had accepted the truce.

 

 

I am back in the saddle from my Sabbatical.  Israel was an amazing and frightening and wonderful experience all at the same time.  I was glad to be in our homeland during a time when Israel really needed support from the Jewish community.  I have been to Israel on so many occasions and in many times of war and turmoil.  But this experience this summer was most powerful.  Until you have missiles exploding over your head you can’t really understand. Thank goodness for Israeli innovation and our American government’s help. The Iron Dome saved millions of lives this summer.  The Iron Dome saved my life this summer. 

This amazing and almost sci-fi technology is able to track a missile or rocket from the moment it is fired by Hamas and then through the miracles of algorithms it is able to decide which will target population centers and which missiles will fall in open areas like fields or the sea.  The Iron Dome then shoots another missile or missiles at the one targeting Israelis and knocks it out of the sky.  I have seen it work, heard the booms, seen the contrails and the puffs smoke of the destroyed rockets. 

Running to bomb shelters at all times of day and night is not the ideal way to see Israel and yet, Israelis-our family and friends were grateful that we were there.  I spent part of time studying at the Shalom Hartman Institute where ironically the theme for this summer was “War and Peace.” 

The second week I was part of the first ever Progressive Rabbis AIPAC Mission to Israel.  Often we think of AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) as a right wing, Republican Jewish organization. My experience could be nothing further from that. AIPAC is truly bi-partisan and its main and only goal is to gain and garner American support for the State of Israel.  It embraces both Jews and Gentiles. It takes our political leaders on both the right and the left and center to Israel.  It advocates for Israel in an increasing hostile and anti-Israeli world. 

I learned so much on my trip this summer to Israel.  I learned from the people we met including right wing settlers and those from the Peace Now movement in Israel. We met members of Knesset from every party and every background.  We met government leaders and diplomats.  We met Palestinians and Israelis.  We visited the Foreign Ministry and a cultural arts center in Haifa that builds bridges between Arabs and Jews.  We visited the hospital in S’fat that is treating Syrian refugees who have been injured in the fighting in Syria and we visited with journalists and business leaders. 

And what became crystal clear to me, that in a world of increasing Anti-Semitism and anti-Israel sentiment, we as American Jews cannot let Israel be under such attack.  Whether you agree with the government policies or not, whether you would vote for the present Prime Minister or not is not the question.  The question is are you ready to stand up side by side with your fellow Jews to ensure a Jewish, democratic Israel remains strong and continues to have the support of the United States.

 

As the middle –east realigns politically and as ISIS continues it’s march to conquer Syria and Lebanon on Israel’s borders, Israel needs each of us to continue to advocate here at home with our Congress members and Senators. 

Take some time this summer to call your Congress person who is home on recess and find out if he or she voted to authorize more funds for Iron Dome that the President recently signed.  If so thank them and tell them how important it is to you to keep Israel strong. 

Iron Dome saved my life this summer.  And it saved many, many Israeli lives as well.  You can do something.  Give it a try.  

Participation, Inclusion and Personal Best

•August 12, 2014 • 1 Comment

Gay Games thoughts

•August 8, 2014 • Leave a Comment

On Monday August 11 I will be speaking at the Gay Games in Cleveland at the Interfaith Service at Trinity Cathedral.  I hope some of you out there will be able to join with us in celebration of the athletes and competitors from around the world who will gather to enjoy a week of sporting events, community events, friendship events and more.  

Here is my press statement on the Gay Games:

The Gay Games is a world-wide gathering of people that celebrates the heart, mind, body and soul of the individual in sports.  Whether through individual competition or team endeavors, the Gay Games is an opportunity to celebrate the total person.  As a rabbi and person of faith, I know that  human beings need outlets for joy, celebration, competition, friendship, hope and triumph.  The Gay Games gives gay and lesbian, bisexual and transgender people and their allies an opportunity to pursue sound minds, bodies and spirit in a friendly competition while meeting and making friends from all over our earth. 

As a rabbi,  the Torah teaches that we human beings are created in the image of God, Btzelem Elohim,  and that includes gay and lesbian, bisexual and transgender people, too.  God doesn’t have one mold.  Each of us gay and straight alike contributes to the wonderful fabric of human diversity.  The Gay Games celebrates that divinely molded diversity.

With so much of the world today in deep pain and warfare, it is good to come to Cleveland and celebrate health, and fitness, cooperation, and friendly competition.  It is good to a direct our energies toward healing and hope rather than hatred and violence.  It is good and fun to celebrate the summer with new and old friends from all the many participating communities.  This is how friendships are built.  This is how peace is made on the playing field; not the battlefield.

The pursuit of a sport can be a spiritual experience.  Like our faith it provides a discipline of practice and focus.  And coupled with faith in the Creator of All Goodness, our energy and our abilities soar.  It is my fervent prayer that blessings abound at these games and the spirit of kindness, the fierceness of competition, the joy of winning, the ethics of sportsmanship, the exuberance of freedom and celebration of hope fill every heart and soul.

Rabbi Denise L. Eger is the founding Rabbi of Congregation Kol Ami, West Hollywood’s Reform Synagogue and the President Elect of the Central Conference of American Rabbis.

Puff of Cloud.

•July 10, 2014 • Leave a Comment

July 10, 2014

Dear Kol Ami Family and Friends,

I just concluded the second full day with the Rabbinic Mission of AIPAC. AIPAC is the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and their mission is to be an effective lobby and bridge for Israel in the United States. Today I will always remember from this mission a puff of cloud.

While AIPAC is best known for making sure our American Elected Officials, Academics, and business leaders understand Israel, visit Israel and build relationships with their Israeli counterparts, this is the first time they have had a rabbinic mission to Israel. You can follow us on Twitter at #rabbinicmission2israel.

There are 20 rabbis mostly Reform and Conservative rabbis and one Modern Orthodox Rabbi in our group. Today we were supposed to have travelled to Ramallah to meet with a member of the Palestinian Authority and an important Palestinian political academic. But due to the changing situation here in Israel we were unable to go to Ramallah and the high ranking member of the Palestinian Authority was unable to leave Ramallah. But we did meet at the American Colony Hotel in East Jerusalem with an important Palestinian political academic.

He shared with us the most recent polls of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and their attitudes toward peace. They also surveyed Israelis and asked them prospects for peace. Among Palestinians there is clearly a generational divide. Those 35 and older according to his polling are willing to accept a two state solution and are willing to accept Israel side by side as a matter of pragmatic consideration. But those 34 years and younger are more militant and will only accept a one state solution. This means Palestine only to the sea. He told us most Palestinians are secular and that only 25 percent want an Islamic state run by Sharia law. Seventy five percent of Palestinians was a democratic state. However the PA is a basically a two party entity, much like the United States. Hamas and Fataq. There are smaller parties but the two major groups gather 80 percent of the vote.

Our afternoon included a visit to the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo which is on the far southern end of Jerusalem and was built beginning in 1967. It is annexed into Jerusalem and overlooks Bethlehem which is in the Palestinian Authority on the other side of the security fence.

We then spent a couple of hours at the Foreign Ministry learning about the challenges of Israel at the United Nations and a marvelous hour learning about MASHAV which is a department of the Foreign Ministry it is Israel’s International Agency for Development and Cooperation. Founded by David Ben-Gurion in 1958 this Agency works with countries around the world on issues of food sustainability, agriculture, health education, emergency response, and early childhood education and gender empowerment. They help developing nations around the globe and help by providing expertise and hands on experience to lift their nations up. Mashav works in countries like Cameroon, Ghana, Kenya, Eastern Europe, Micronesia, India, Indonesia, Ivory Coast, Burkina Faso and Rawanda.

But just as we were learning more about Mashav. A blaring announcement came through the building, “Red Alert, Red Alert” with piercing sirens. Other employees joined us in the conference room we were in as it was a reinforced safe room. Four rockets had been launched at Jerusalem and we heard several booms. As the all clear sign was given and we exited the building, we could still see the cloud puffs where the Iron Dome had taken out the rockets.

We ended the day over dinner in a private home in Yemin Moshe (the Windmill neighborhood). Dr. Einat Wilf, a former member of Knesset with the Labor Party ( I met her last summer) gave a brilliant talk about the future of peace and the challenges and hurdles and opportunities between Israel and the Arabs.

There is no let up in the rockets landing all over Israel. Hamas has launched 400 rockets. There are only 6 Iron Dome batteries and Israel needs 14 to protect its cities.

Hamas who after 2008 was not supposed to have any more rockets has not only resupplied but has more sophisticated weaponry thanks to Iran. They used to only be able to reach Southern Israel. But now they can reach the entire nation.

The Israeli army has been firing and trying to take out rocket launchers and Hamas leadership. While civilian deaths are regrettable and deeply painful, Hamas uses them as human shields. Israel’s army not only leaflets before they shoot but they call the families to leave the buildings. What other army in the world calls the civilians and tells them to get out? Can you imagine Putin doing that in the Ukraine? Or the Taliban in Afghanistan? Or al-Sissi in Egypt?

The situation is complex here in Israel. And it has many nuances. And there isn’t time to recover from one trauma before there is another. But we in our comfort of the United States have no idea what it is like to try and run to shelter. And if you live in Sderot you only have 15 seconds. And in Tel Aviv 30 seconds to find shelter.

Yes we pray that there will be peace. And let us never lose that hope. And let us continue to urge Israel and her neighbors sit down and talk. And we should support organizations that help Israelis and Palestinians encounter one another. But this Shabbat will not be that time.

Tomorrow Shabbat will descend upon this holy city of Jerusalem. As the sun sets here the sky turns a beautiful shade of pink as the sun reflects off of the Jerusalem stone and the streets will get so quiet. I know as I attend services at Kol HaNeshama (One of Jerusalem’s Reform Synagogues) I will be praying for the peace of Israel and Jerusalem. I will be praying for the soldiers of the IDF who defend this country, her residents and its borders. I will be praying for the innocent Palestinians who are held captive by terrorists and corrupt leaders. And I will be praying for you and me.

Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Denise L. Eger

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