Sex and the Jews

•September 16, 2014 • Leave a Comment

This is an important Review of the New book The Sacred Encounter: Jewish Perspectives on Sexuality.  It is edited by Rabbi Dr. Lisa Grushcow of Montreal, Canada. It is published by the CCAR Press .  I have two chapters in this collection one on Taharat HaMishpacha-family purity and another on the history of LGBT inclusion within the Reform Movement.  I hope you enjoy this review and purchase the book.  It is a definitive collection!

Sex and the Jews.

Let the Land enter us!

•September 12, 2014 • Leave a Comment

This week’s Torah portion Ki Tavo gives the Israelites explicit instructions having to do with entering and living in the land of Israel.  There are specific rituals outlined to ensure that this group that has been a nomadic tribe for almost 40 years be tied to the holy land of Eretz Yisrael.  The Israelites are told to honor the land and the produce by setting aside tithes to God and dedicating those at the Tabernacle.  The Israelites must also write out the Torah on large plaster stones, near the river Jordan for all to see. These steles enumerated the laws of the land.  And there is a unique ritual that divides up the 12 Tribes into two groups of six to be stationed one group on Mt. Gezerim and other on Mt. Ebal. An elaborate ritual follows of blessings and curses that will befall the Israelites unless they adhere to the covenant in the land.

While these ancient rituals may not have much practical application today we can learn something important from them in our own day and time.  The values the jump out here and that should speak to us in contemporary times, is our Jewish connection to the sacred land of Israel.  All Jews no matter how observant or not, has a place in Israel.  This is our homeland; our ancient homeland. We are descendants of those very Israelites who came and settled the land per the covenant with our God.  The modern State of Israel is the rebirth of that ancient promise and we have a duty and responsibility that ties us to Eretz Yisrael, the land of Israel and its peoples.

The modern State of Israel is a complex place. Our love for Israel should recognize the complexities in contemporary life.  Like America has its issues and problems, so does Israel. But like America, Israel has many successes and things to be proud of, not the least of which is a vibrant and diverse culture and democratic values.

The Torah portion begins Ki Tavo el haaretz, When you come into the land.  Our job as Jews in the 21st century is to enter into a relationship with Israel. By going there regularly. Buying Israeli products and helping to sustain the land and its people.  Subscribe to Israeli papers, read from its great canon of writers and poets, build a connection with the people of Israel. It will lift your Jewishness to a new height.  And as much as we shall enter the land, let the land enter into our hearts and spirits.

I invite you to hear the Consul General of Israel at Kol Ami, Thursday night Sept. 18 as we host the launch of the Israel-West Hollywood AIDS Task Force.  6:30-8 pm . The West Hollywood City Council and the Consul General will forge a new bond of cooperation and exchange on issues of AIDS/HIV through this new and important task force.

Let the land enter us!

NFL and Domestic Violence

•September 9, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Domestic Violence is out of the closet.  The graphic video of NFL player Ray Rice slamming a knock-out punch directly to the face of his wife in a casino elevator is causing our country and the world to discuss a terrible and wide-spread problem of Domestic Violence. Most often this violence is men hitting women.  But it can be women hitting men, or even same sex partners.  Domestic Violence often begins as verbal and emotional abuse and can escalate to physical violence which can include hitting, biting, restraining, and torture.  There are many cases that have resulted in murder.

(If you or someone you know is a victim of abuse call the confidential hotline 1-800-799-7233 | 1-800-787-3224 (TTY) or visit their website

The way the National Football League has handled this and in particular, the Commissioner Roger Goodell and also the Baltimore Ravens seem more intent on protecting their profits than dealing with a major social issue that has affected many of their players and coaches. It isn’t just Ray Rice, but Ray McDonald of the San Francisco 49’s, Greg Hardy of  the Panthers and Quincy Enumwah, practice squad of the Jets.  And that is just this year’s batch!

The fact that the NFL was slow to deal with Ray Rice at first suspending him for only two games but then after the video came to light suspending him indefinitely tells me that Roger Goodell and the good ole’ boys of the NFL wanted to keep this in the closet. If you can’t see it, it doesn’t exist.  That’s the problem with Domestic Violence.  We don’t often see it happen.  We see evidence of it, broken bones and black eyes–but then it is often “I fell down the stairs”  (when they were really pushed) or “I ran into something” (when it was really a fist that ran into them).

The NFL doesn’t want to deal with lots of issues, concussions, drug use by players, betting, nor domestic violence.  I am not suggesting that the NFL can be a policeman for every player or coach or employee that is part of the NFL but it must do a better job of accountability.

The NFL gets lots of tax breaks both from the federal government and then owners often get tax breaks as they demand that municipalities build new stadiums so they can make more money.  The NFL pays NO federal income tax. That means all the billions it makes is costing you and I lots of money.  And that doesn’t even buy you a ticket to one of the games! The least the NFL can do is be a responsible business and that means zero tolerance for domestic violence and to be transparent in what it does. Especially because we are observing the 20th anniversary of the Violence Against Women Act, you would think the NFL wouldn’t want to alienate its many women fans.  But I can tell you they have alienated this woman by the way they have acted.  Time to change, Roger that!Ray-Rice_01-300x286Roger-Goodell



The Heat of the Day

•September 7, 2014 • Leave a Comment

In Southern California early September is still hot.  Sizzling hot.  The drought we are experiencing in much of the west gets worse by the hour.  It is a true emergency.  Many people are experiencing sky high water bills because the Water Department has raised rates so much.  It makes oil seem cheap.  Recently I pulled out my thirsty front lawn and put in  drought resistant mulch and plants native to California. This included a drip irrigation watering system that uses only 6 gallons a week which is a flush of an older toilet. Some toilets today are as low as three gallons.

Imagine if everyone replaced their lawns and switched to low flush toilets.  This could make a huge difference in our water usage.  But it won’t solve all of our water problems.  This past year, the State of California and Israel signed an important agreement on Research and Development in four areas–cyber security, energy, storage capabilities and water!  Israel has solved its water crisis by building large desalinization plants that can now handle the growth of Israel’s population. No longer is Israel dependent on the small Jordan River for all of its fresh water needs.

California has miles and miles of coast line.  Perhaps we ought to green light desalinization plants to help us through this drought.  California grows significant amounts of this nation’s fruits and vegetables.  It is not just a California drought, it is a drought for the whole nation if we can’t supply the food needed.

Urge your representatives in the next session of our State Assembly and Senate to deal with our sever water crisis. Let’s boost funding now.  Life depends upon it.


Here is a map of existing and proposed plants.

A Remembrance of Steven Satloff

•September 4, 2014 • Leave a Comment

The news seems grim. With deep sadness another journalist is murdered
by ISIS. This time we mourn Steven Satloff who was beheaded in a
horrific video like his fellow prisoner and journalist James Foley.
Steven Satloff grew up in Miami, Florida at Temple Beth Am. He was a
Reform Jew. He went to Jewish Day school. His mother who many of you may have seen pleaded for his
life in a video she made last week and was broadcast on Al-Arabiyah
television.  She taught religious school at Temple Beth Am for many
years. He had both Israeli and American citizenship. He went to University in Israel.

He wrote for the Jerusalem Post and freelanced for Time magazine and Foreign Policy
He was an observant Reform Jew who fasted for Yom Kippur even while
held in captivity by ISIS although often fed just one meal a day. He
pretended to be sick refusing his only sustenance which on that day
was eggs. But his spiritual sustenance also sustained him through the
terror of his captivity. As we say kaddish for Steven this week let us
be inspired his courage, his faith, his commitment to tell the stories as he saw
them. May his family find comfort among all who mourn in Zion and
Jerusalem. And may his memory live for a blessing

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More about Elul and Repentance

•August 27, 2014 • Leave a Comment

The new month of Elul began on Monday night of this week. Elul is the last month of 5774 and with its arrival we start to turn our hearts and minds and souls toward the High Holy Days.  In some synagogues the shofar is sounded each morning during daily worship. In other communities, special meditations, psalms, and prayers are read daily.  Each is a call to repent from transgressions and sins in preparation for the New Year and the Day of Atonement, Yom Kippur.

As Elul unfolds around us this is a good time for each of us to begin the process of cheshbon hanefesh, taking an accounting of our soul.  It is time for each of us to ask the big questions.  What relationships need repair? What can I do better in the year to come? How will I achieve and follow through with my goals? How can I be a better Jew?  A better person?  What must I change? How will I change?

Our Torah portion this week, Shoftim, tells us “You must be wholehearted before God” (Deuteronomy 18:13).  This means we must be sincere in our relationship with the Divine, with the Holy.  We must not be distracted by or serve other  gods and goddesses or worship power.   Even if we have doubts and questions, we Jews are to be in relationship with that Source of All.  During the month of Elul as we take an accounting of our acts, deeds, words, transgression, sins and accomplishments we do so in order to stand at the New Year with a whole heart before our community and yes, our God.

This is exactly what happened to Moses our teacher.  On the first of Elul after the Exodus, Moses is said to have climbed Mt. Sinai again.  This is after he broke the first set of the Ten Commandments in response to the sin of the Golden Calf.  During these next 40 days Moses communed with God. Moses wrote the second set of Tablets (The first had been written by God).  And during this time Moses reconciled God and the Jewish people.  Moses according to tradition was able to seek God  and come to know God  when God’s back passed before him.  He learned the power of God’s forgiveness and reconciliation and sought that for the people of Israel. That is why this month of Elul is such a powerful time for forgiveness from our transgressions and sins.  God’s attributes of love and compassion are turned toward us as they were turned toward our ancestors. 

So take advantage of this month of Elul to prepare to stand “wholehearted before God” and prepare your soul for the important holy days ahead.  And in 40 days from the first of Elul-on Yom Kippur Day we will arise together at the close of Neilah, healed, renewed, and forgiven from our errors. But the time to begin the process is now.


Honoring Rabbi Regina Jonas and Judaism’s Pioneering Women Rabbis | Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion

•August 26, 2014 • Leave a Comment

More on my summer trip to Berlin and Prague from the perspective of a fellow traveler.  Andrew Berger is the chair of the Board of Governors of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion and an important leader in the North American Jewish community


Honoring Rabbi Regina Jonas and Judaism’s Pioneering Women Rabbis | Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.


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