Tel Aviv Mayor Ron Huldai

•October 19, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I just met this morning with Mayor Ron Huldai of Tel Aviv.  He isn’t showy.  He shuns the limelight.  But he is a man with a vision. He has been responsible over the last 16 years for Tel Aviv’s rebirth from a bankrupt municipality to a shining example of a welcoming city and the best that Israel has to offer. it is a seaside paradise of commerce, art, culture and tolerance.  Tel Aviv like every large municipality in the world has its underbelly.  And Tel Aviv is no different. But in a one on one meeting this morning he mapped out a vision to help the foreign immigrants mainly from Africa, working families, the booming children’s population in Tel Aviv, the income gap, the housing crisis and even as far as trying to fund dentures for Holocaust survivors.

He isn’t slick but he is dedicated, smart and brilliant. He retired from the Israeli Air Force as a Brigadier General! He understands that building infrastructure is critical to a successful city and a successful Israel.  He has been focusing on building adequate schools and day care especially in low income areas of South Tel Aviv.  He has spear-headed special needs education in the Tel Aviv schools. And now he is making sure that Tel Aviv schools have adequate shelters.  This summer’s war with Gaza left many young school children without a safe place. And he is committed to care for the oldest and youngest of Tel Aviv’s citizens!  Often politicians don’t really do anything about those who don’t yet vote or are often too frail and old.  But Huldai understands that society must care for the least powerful and he told me that is why he is willing to come to the U.S. to seek funds for the Tel Aviv Foundation.

The Foundation is working hard to create many programs in Tel Aviv alongside the municipality to strengthen the commitment to the poor, young families who have no where to live because rents are sky-high and to the seniors.  The foundation is working on large projects such as building a sports stadium to small projects like equipment for handicapped toddlers.

There are projects that cost $75.00  and $750,000.   I hope you will visit the website and consider a donation for a project.

www.telavivfoundation.org.il  to make it part of your regular tzedakah donations.  Or if you have an upcoming b’nai mitzvah in your future then suggest one of these projects for their mitzvah project.

Mayor Huldai inspired me today by his dedication and his no nonsense approach to governance and to caring.  He reminded me of what great public servants are supposed to aspire to. May he continue to go from strength to strength.

huldai

Observing Rabbi Jonas’ Yarzeit

•October 17, 2014 • Leave a Comment

On Shabbat Bereshit many rabbis and Jewish leaders across North America are observing the Yarzeit of Rabbi Regina Jonas.  Rabbi Jonas was ordained in 1935 in Berlin in a private ceremony by Rabbi Max Dienerman who was head of the Liberal Rabbinic Conference.  She was a graduate of the famous Hochshule fur die Wiesenschaft des Judentums in Berlin.  She had been scheduled to be ordained there but her teacher in charge of the ordinations, Eduard Baneth died before he could ordain her and Hanock Albeck who succeeded him refused to ordain her with her male classmates.  Rabbi Jonas worked in the growing shadow of Nazi Germany.  She taught in various pulpits, ministered to the elderly left behind after Kristallnacht when their children fled Germany and taught many classes at the synagogue on Oranienburger Strasse in central Berlin.

She was deported with her mother to Terezin the so-called “model” ghetto for Jews in 1942.  She continued to teach and minister as a rabbi there for two years, working closely with the great psychologist Vicktor Frankel.  In 1944 she was deported with her mother to Auschwitz.  They left Terezin on October 12 in a railcar and is said to have arrived on October 14 which was Shabbat Bereshit. There is no record of her after that.  Presumably she was gassed on that very same day.

This is how we arrived at observing her yarzeit on Shabbat Bereshit.

This past summer a group  of 20 women rabbis, women scholars and lay leaders under the auspices of the American Jewish Archives and Dr. Rabbi Gary Zola and and the Jewish Women’s Archives went on a study mission dedicated to the life of Rabbiner Regina Jonas.  There we viewed the small archives of her writings in the Centrum Judaicum in Berlin at that same Orianiaenburger Strasse synagogue (or what is left of it after the war).  And we dedicated a memorial plaque to her memory at Terezin.

As the sun sets we light a memorial candle to this brave, heroine. A true leader of the Jewish community of Germany. A trail blazer who dedicated her life to teaching Judaism and caring for the Jewish people even in the dire circumstances of the Shoa.  Her contributions were forgotten and only rediscovered along with her story a few years ago.  And so from now on, Shabbat Bereshit will be the time we recall her blessed memory, her courageous life and ask for God’s to keep her soul at peace as we continue to live out her legacy.   May her memory live for a blessing.

Rabbi Denise Eger’s Yom Kippur Morning

•October 11, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Rabbi Denise Eger’s Yom Kippur Morning Sermon 2014 – YouTube http://ow.ly/CBSfw

Rabbi Denise Eger’s Yom Kippur Evening

•October 11, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Rabbi Denise Eger’s Yom Kippur Evening Kol Nidrei Sermon 2014 – YouTube http://ow.ly/CBScO

Sukkah Guests

•October 8, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Tonight we begin the Festival of Sukkot, our Fall Harvest Extravaganza!  In our day and time this is a most overlooked by liberal Jews.  With so much emphasis on Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur the rest of the High Holy Days- Sukkot, Hoshanah Rabbah, Simchat Torah are often passed by.  In the ancient days this festival was known as THE FESTIVAL.  Even though Passover and Shavuot are also Festivals, Sukkot was widely celebrated and very important.

I particularly love Sukkot in contrast with Yom Kippur.  Yom Kippur is introspective and a fast day.  Sukkot is a week of welcoming everyone to your table for feasting. It is the ultimate dinner party holiday.  Not Passover but Sukkot is a week of entertaining in the Sukkah, welcoming family and friends and even our ancestors through the ancient ceremony of Ushpizin.

Ushpizin is an Aramaic word for guests.  We welcome not only real guests into the hospitality of our Sukkah but ancient guests. Traditionally each of the days of Sukkot we welcome the soul of a different ancestor beginning on the first night with Abraham, second night, Isaac, third night Jacob, fourth night Moses,  fifth night Aaron, sixth night Joseph, and seventh night King David!  Each of these seven leaders of our people are present each night but one leader is highlighted. According to the Zohar, Emor 103a, their souls  actually leave Gan Eden to partake in the Divine light of the earthly Sukkot.

This welcoming of the Ushpizin is a very mystical custom. Several Jewish mystical texts explain that each of the seven Ushpizin correspond to a fundamental spiritual pathway (sefirah) through which the world is metaphysically nourished and perfected (Derech Hashem 3:2:5, Zohar Chadash, Toldot 26c; cf. Zohar 2:256a).

Abraham represents love and kindness (Chesed); Isaac represents restraint and personal strength (Gevurah). Jacob represents beauty and truth (Tifferet). Moses represents eternality and dominance through Torah (Netzach)  Aaron represents empathy and receptivity to divine splendor (Hod)Joseph represents holiness and the spiritual foundation (Yesod) David represents the establishment of the kingdom of Heaven on Earth (Malchut).

In the period of counting the Omer between Passover and Shavuot, each week is dedicated to one of these same sefirot but each characteristic of the Tree of Life appears in every week.  Just as each guest representing one of the sefirot is welcomed into the sukkah on a particular day as the leader but all are present every day!

In our day and time it is also customary to welcome Ushpiziot , women leaders of our people including, Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel &Leah, Miriam, Hulda, Devorah and Esther.

Come into the Sukkah at Temple this week. Bring you lunch during the day, or one of the many events in the Sukkah this week.  Your ancestors await you!

 

 

 

Heed the Sounds of the Warnings.

•October 5, 2014 • Leave a Comment

Shanah Tovah. Happy New Year to you all.

I want to share with you something From the memoirs of Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Meisels, z”l describing Rosh Hashanah 1944. It is a true story.

“The experience of one transport that left Auschwitz is seared in my memory,” he writes. “With the grace of HASHEM I was miraculously able to bring a shofar into the camp.

On the first day of Rosh Hashanah I went from block to block, shofar in hand, to sound the tekiyot. This put my life in danger and I had to avoid the Nazis and malevolent Kapos.

I thank HASHEM that due to God’s mercy and compassion I was privileged to sound the shofar that Rosh Hashanah some twenty times, coming to a hundred blasts en toto. This revived the spirits of the shattered camp inmates and gave them some peace of mind knowing that at least they could observe one mitzvah in Auschwitz – that of shofar on Rosh Hashanah.

The Shofar in Auschwitz brought peace of mind to those in the midst of horror. The Sound of the Shofar does many things. Our Shofar last night was a sound of hope, of renewal, of potential, the sound of improvement. It said “Wake up!” “Wake up to the New Year.” “Wake up to the rebirth of the world.” “Wake up Jews to your chance to become who you want to be.”

This morning the call of our Shofar blasts is also a warning. The staccato notes of Teruah and Shvarim are calling to us to “Wake Up Jews.” “Heed the warning Jews.” “Pay attention Jews.”

The prophet Ezekiel (33:5-7) said the following:
5 He heard the sound of the shofar and did not take warning; his blood shall be upon himself. But he that takes warning shall deliver his soul.
6 But if the watchman should see the sword coming and not blow the shofar and the people not be warned, if the sword comes and takes any person from among them, he is taken away because of his iniquity; but his blood I will require at the watchman’s hand.
7 So thou, O son of man, I have set thee a watchman unto the house of Israel; therefore thou shalt hear the word at My mouth and warn them from Me.

Ezekiel understood that the Shofar must be sounded as a warning when harm comes our way. This morning we must also hear the sound of the Shofar as a warning to the Jewish world.

I believe we ought to take the threats to wipe out Israel and Jews as serious threats from ISIS and Hamas. We should take them at their word. We cannot live in denial. And there is increasing evidence from some on the far left of the political spectrum as well as the far right in Europe that we are seeing a convergence on the issues of Anti-Semitism; from Golden Dawn in Greece and Le Penn in France to the far left in Norway and Sweden and even here in the U.S.

Today, on this Rosh Hashanahs morning we ought hear the warnings of the Shofar this season. And we should take seriously the threats against our people in Europe and the Middle East. There is a growing danger to Jews around the world that is happening before our very eyes. Perhaps not since the 1930’s and 1940’s have Jews been under such a threat.

The rise of ISIS, The Islamic State of Al-Sham, or ISIL, the Islamic State of Syria and the Levant which goes by all these names and the other extreme Jihadist like Al-Nusrah in Syria, Hamas in Gaza and the West Bank, Hezbollah in Lebanon, Boko Haram in Africa, pose a menace to the Jewish people. In truth they pose a menace to Christians and Muslims who don’t worship like them either.

Let me be clear. I have never been an alarmist about Anti-Semitism. And I believe there are many organizations in the Jewish community that cry Anti-Semitism when there hasn’t really been any. But I can tell you first hand after my trips to Israel and Europe this summer and speaking with Jewish leaders in Berlin, Prague, Budapest, France and England and Israel, that we, the Jewish community are facing serious dangers. Just as Jewish life is blossoming once again in Europe and especially in Eastern Europe, Anti-Semitism is fresh and ugly. And it threatens to destroy the delicate renewal of Jewish life there.

France used to have the third largest population of Jews in the world after Israel and the United States. Ten years ago the Jewish population of France was listed at 600,000 Jews. But events over the last several years have caused French Jews to flee in great numbers. This past year the population count was about 550,000 Jews. Most are making Aliyah to Israel. And because of the events of the past summer, the number of French anticipated to make aliyah to Israel this year is over 5000 families.
As you may have heard about in the news there was a shooting near the Jewish day school in Toulouse in 2012, murdering the principal- a rabbi and his son and two other boys. And this summer one of the Paris synagogues was firebombed with Molotov cocktails while people were praying inside. They were trapped inside while an angry crowd with metal bars kept the Jews from leaving. In another attack in a northern Paris suburb, a mob attacked a Jewish owned grocery store. And the French comedian and performer Dieudonne’ who has a tremendous following has been making many Anti-Semitic statements and invented the quenelle, a sort of backward and lowered Nazi salute that has caught on like wildfire among his followers and is aimed at Jews. According to France’s Society for the Protection of the Jewish Community, the average annual number of anti-Semitic acts so far in the 21st century is seven times higher than during the 1990s. Two-fifths of racist violence in France in 2013 was focused on Jews, the SPCJ says, though Jews constitute less than 1% of the population.
But France isn’t the only place Anti-Semitism is rearing its ugly head. In Britain more than 300 Anti-Semitic incidents took place in July alone as reported by the Jewish Community Security Trust. It was the highest monthly amount of anti-Semitism since they began to keep records in 1984 according to an article in the Jerusalem Post.

While I was in Berlin on a study mission with 20 rabbis this summer, there was a large demonstration that began as a protest against Israel and the war in Gaza but quickly devolved into chanting “Death to the Jews” “Hitler should have finished the job”. It was horrifying. And while we were in Berlin we met with a deputy of the Foreign Ministry who apologized on behalf of the German people for this blatant Anti-Semitism. She explained that many Muslims who are now German citizens do not go to German schools and thus are not part of the rigorous Holocaust reconciliation education that are given to German school students. Her job consisted of outreach to the Jewish community in Germany. She was gracious but the fact that in the foreign ministry is a department dealing with the Jews of Germany gave us all pause.

Even though last week 5000 Germans including Andrea Merkel the Chancellor of Germany gathered at the Brandenburg Gate to denounce Anti-Semitism in Germany.

It is a growing concern.

In Hungary the Jewish community is facing clampdowns by right wing ministers in the government and the left wing governmental indifference in Sweden has led to an increase in Anti-Semitism including the rabbi of Malmo attacked in August.

Yes, some of this anti-Semitic violence took off during the war between Hamas and Israel this summer. Like the City of Glasgow in Scotland raising a Palestinian Flag over its city hall.

But what is increasingly clear, and something I have been talking about for a number of years-is that anti-Zionism is merely a cloak for being Anti-Jewish. This isn’t just about opposing Israel. It is an attack on the Jewish community. The world-wide condemnation of Israel this summer, even though Israel had a solemn duty to protect its citizens from increasing missile attacks and pending massacres that were planned by the extensive tunnel system dug by Hamas, fueled some of these horrific protests.

But most including those here in the United States and Canada quickly moved from protesting against Israel to calling for “Death to the Jews”. And now a Kentucky candidate for US Senate has placed signs around from Northern Kentucky telling voters “With Jews You Lose.” Today in Jackson Ms the new rabbi in town was thrown out of a local restaurant for being Jewish,

And let us not forget the continuing efforts of Iran whose commitment to destroy Israel proceeds closer everyday as it develops nuclear arms. They deny the Holocaust. They send missiles to Hamas. They round up Iranian Jews as collaborators and spies of Israel for doing nothing at all.

My friends, The shofar we will soon hear is warning us to help our country stay strong in its negotiations with Iran to rid itself of nuclear capabilities.

The beheadings of James Foley and fellow Jew, Steven Satloff, whose mother is a religious school teacher at the Reform synagogue in Miami (Beth Am) and where he went to Day School, has shown us the brutal, terror of ISIS. They will stop at nothing. Their extreme view of Islam targets all Takfiris those within Islam that follow other streams of Islam and all non-believers, khafiris, including you and I. They have murdered and crucified Christians. Tried to commit genocide of the Yazidis, and Jews are on their radar as is Israel. They want to establish their caliphate throughout the Middle East.

Hamas is no different. Their charter calls for the destruction of Israel. They aren’t interested in peace nor are they interested in governance. They rejected the peace treaty with Israel eight times this summer even though Israel accepted it every time.

When they finally said yes, after holding out and killing more of the Gazan people and Israelis, they got no better terms. It was exactly the same deal as the first treaty. Hamas shows no mercy to Palestinians either. They are clear in their commitment to wipe out Israel even as they use human shields to cover their crimes.

The Shofar is calling us to wake up Jews. Wake up. Do not let our American Jewish cocoon, our seemingly easy-going Jewish life here in America fool you. Because already we are seeing signs here that the same creeping attitudes are playing out; those who see Israel as only the aggressor against “the Palestinian people” go quickly from hating Israel to anti-Jewish sentiment. The BDS, Boycott Divestment and Sanctions Movement that has caught fire on college campuses is but one example. Jewish students report all kinds of anti-Semitism on campus from graffiti at Hillel houses to attempting to ban Jewish students from school activities like student government if they have ever been to Israel or on a birthright trip. This happened right here at UCLA. This week at The University of Ohio in Columbus 4 Jewish students were arrested because they spoke out of turn at a student government meeting that was being manipulated to impose a boycott of Israel throughout campus. They were not being recognized to speak and they were removed from the meeting when they tried to protest the railroading of the motion.

In these kinds of times it is critically important for all of us to band together as a community. We have to stand strong as a Jewish people worldwide. And we must strengthen the synagogue as the cornerstone of our community. It is in the synagogue that we gather. Not only to pray and study so as to strengthen our own knowledge about who we are, but we gather in the synagogue to think, to advocate and to build ties to other religious leaders who will stand with us against anti-Semitism.
Rabbis together with synagogue lay leaders through the sacred home of the synagogue are the best antidotes to this growing threat. Together we can reach out to other communities of faith to engage in the kinds of conversations and honest interactions that will educate others about the dangers and threats that really exist both from the far right and the far left; we can advocate together through our own government for Jews in Europe and other places in the world. And we can reach out to moderate Muslims in our own community to learn from one another and encourage them to continue to challenge the Jihadists version of Islam.

The synagogue is a place for prayer. But our tradition has taught us that we do not rely on prayer alone. The synagogue is a B’eit Midrash a house of study and a B’eit Knesset, a place of gathering.

The time has come to Wake up. The time has come to gather together and strengthen our synagogue. The sounds of the Shofar are calling to you. To each and every one of you-to heed the warning on this New Year Day-The shofar is a warning but it is also the reminder of hope and continuity.

“The shofar which marks the New Year is a great symbol of hope against hope, a call to optimism in a despairing world. The shofar challenges us to be hopeful…. Fear of anti-Semitism in the wake of the Shoah certainly played a role in putting the state of Israel, finally, on the map, but the centuries upon centuries that preceded 1948 were marked more by a pervasive hope, by countless moments in history when our people, by all rights, should have lost their hope and faith, but didn’t. “Hope is the thing with feathers,” writes Emily Dickinson (254), “That perches in the soul—And sings the tune without the words—And never stops—at all—.” If the enduring song of that “thing with feathers” is proportional to the amount of suffering one has to endure, then our people have music to spare.” (Rabbi Daniel Cotzin Burg)

From warning to hope. That is the sounds we hear this morning. Warning us to pay attention to the threats against the Jewish world, against Israel. Urging us to refresh and renew our souls and to hope and pray and act to redeem the world.

Urging us to strengthen the synagogue, our synagogue in this New Year. With the Shofar we have music to spare, music with out words. We have hope. Hope is perched in the soul as Emily Dickenson wrote. This is the call we will hear. This is what we shall do together.
Ken Yehi Ratzon
RH AM 5775
1 Tishrei

Yom Kippur Transitions and Remembrances

•October 5, 2014 • Leave a Comment

I wish you each a Ketivah v’chatimah tovah! A good inscription and seal in the Book of Life. And for those of you that are fasting a Tzom Kal, an easy fast.
In May of 1972 Judaism went through a dramatic transition. The Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion ordained its first woman rabbi, Rabbi Sally Priesand. This was a historical moment not only in the life of Reform Judaism but the entire Jewish world and in America. In the midst of the feminist revolution of the sixties and early 1970’s, Reform Judaism finally lived out its founding principles of equality between men and women in spiritual matters. The moment was hailed by liberal Jews world wide and condemned by Orthodox Judaism and even Conservative Judaism. Two years later in 1974 the Reconstructionist movement would ordain Rabbi Sandy Sasso. In 1975 Rabbi Jackie Tabick became Britain’s first female rabbi ordained by the Reform Movement there. Then in 1984 the Conservative movement jumped aboard a train that had already left the station. Rabbi Amy Eilberg became the first woman ordained by the Jewish Theological Seminary of the Conservative Movement. Each of these moments were transition moments in the history of Judaism. Fast forward to just a year ago when the Open Orthodox movement ordained its first rabbi, Rabbah Sarah Hurvitz. Plus there are a handful of other women who have been ordained in the Orthodox world, including here in Los Angeles, Reb Mimi Feigelson who teaches at the American Jewish University and my good friend, Rabbi Dina Najman who has her own pulpit in Riverdale, New York.
Each of these moments are holy moments, moments hailed by a community of Jews. For many of us it is hard to imagine Judaism without the voice of women as leaders both ordained and lay people.
This summer I went on a study mission with the American Jewish Archives and Jewish Women’s Archives and the first four American women rabbis to rediscover the life of Rabbiner (Rabbi) Regina Jonas. Since the fall of the Iron Curtain and in particular the Berlin Wall, the story of Regina Jonas has been rediscovered. It turns out that the headlines in 1972 were wrong. Rabbi Priesand was not the first woman ordained ever. But the first in America. It turns out the Rabbi Regina Jonas was ordained in 1935 in Berlin.
A group of 20 of us Women Rabbis and Women Scholars, Reform Movement Lay leaders traveled together to rediscover her life and her contributions to the Jewish world and to dedicate a memorial plaque in her memory at Terezin, the model ghetto city of the Nazis where Rabbiner Jonas ministered for two years before her death in Aushwitz in 1944.
We gathered in Berlin, went to the house she grew up in. Today a plaque stands outside her home. We visited the remnants of the synagogue she taught and lectured in. We had an opportunity to read her letters and documents from the small archives that are left of her materials. And when I say small, I mean no higher than an inch. This coming year will be 80’s years since her ordination which is a story in itself.
Born in Berlin in 1912, her father died when she was a young girl. She was raised in poverty by her single mother. But she was a bright student and loved Judaism. According to her biographer Elisa Klapchik:
In 1924, she matriculated at the Hochschule für die Wissenschaft des Judentums, founded in Berlin in 1872. This liberal institution admitted women as students…but Jonas was the only woman who hoped to be ordained as a rabbi. All her fellow women students were studying for an academic teacher’s degree.
Eduard Baneth (1855–1930), professor of Talmud at the Hochschule and responsible for rabbinic ordination, was the supervisor of Jonas’s final thesis, which dealt with the topic “May a woman hold rabbinic office?” Submitted in June 1930, this paper is the first known attempt to find a halakhic basis for the ordination of women.
Jonas’s thesis received a grade of “good” (Praedikat gut). Soon thereafter, Eduard Baneth died and his successor, Hanokh Albeck (1890–1972), proved unwilling to ordain a woman. None of the other professors of the Hochschule raised their voices on this issue…. As a result, Regina Jonas graduated only as religious teacher. In the following years, she taught religion at several girls’ schools in Berlin, where she was known to be a very popular and committed teacher.
In 1933, the workload for Jewish teachers increased tremendously, since the students who had to leave public schools due to anti-Semitism not only needed Jewish knowledge, but also needed to learn to be proud of their Jewish heritage.
Nevertheless, Jonas continued to pursue ordination. Finally, in 1935, Rabbi Max Dienemann (1875–1939), executive director of the Liberaler Rabbinerverband (Conference of Liberal Rabbis) agreed to the ordination, on behalf of the Verband. Her diploma of ordination reads: “Since I saw that her heart is with God and Israel, and that she dedicates her soul to her goal, and that she fears God, and that she passed the examination in matters of religious law, I herewith certify that she is qualified to answer questions of religious law and entitled to hold the rabbinic office. And may God protect her and guide her on all her ways. She has the heart of a rabbi.”
Jonas became the first woman to be ordained a rabbi. But soon the nightmare of the Shoa was upon them. As many Jews and rabbis fled the country and were rounded up-Rabbiner Jonas taught in many congregations, pastored the elders left in town after Kristallnacht and finally along with her mother was sent in 1942 to Terezin. There for two years, she taught and preached and held up the spirits of the Jews. She led worship and worked closely with Vicktor Frankel the great psychologist on a suicide watch in the camp.
In Terezin this summer, we saw the list of 24 lectures she gave while there. Lectures, adult education that you might have heard from me over the course of the years. Lectures on Shabbat and the holy days, Discussions about God and mitzvoth.
In a small sample of her writings that were left she writes:

Our Jewish people was planted by God into history as a blessed nation. ‘Blessed by God’ means to offer blessings, lovingkindness and loyalty, regardless of place and situation. Humility before God, selfless love for His creatures, sustain the world. It is Israel’s task to build these pillars of the world— man and woman, woman and man alike have taken this upon themselves in Jewish loyalty. Our work in Theresienstadt, serious and full of trials as it is, also serves this end: to be God’s servants and as such to move from earthly spheres to eternal ones. May all our work be a blessing for Israel’s future (and the future of humanity) … Upright ‘Jewish men’ and ‘brave, noble women’ were always the sustainers of our people. May we be found worthy by God to be numbered in the circle of these women and men … The reward of a mitzvah is the recognition of the great deed by God.

How could the world forget a woman like this? How by 1972, could the world forget a rabbi, a teacher, a compassionate Jew whose selfless devotion to our people eased their comfort and pain in a most tumultuous time: in a transition time of Jewish life?
Our mission this summer tried to atone for that loss of her dignity and memory. We gathered in Terezin to dedicate a memorial plaque to her. In a solemn ceremony, with dignitaries from both Germany and the Czech Republic, European Jewish community leaders and the first four American Rabbis of each stream along with several other leading Women Rabbis and Women Scholars we dedicated a memorial to her in the Kolumbarium at Terezin. With the child and grandchild of a child survivor of Terezin: Helga Weissova-Hoskova playing the music, we read Rabbiner Jonas own words chanted the El Maleh Rachamim, recited the Kaddish in her memory.
This holy and extremely moving spiritual moment that I experienced taught me a great lesson. And one that I wish to share with you this morning on Yom Kippur. Memory is a fragile thing. If we do not share our memories, our stories, our remembrances, it could be as if we never existed. We cannot build the future fully if the past is forgotten.
Clearly Rabbiner Jonas had an important impact on the people she met. At one of the darkest hours in the life of our people, she brought love and compassion and dignity to their lives-and yet by 1972 no one knew or spoke of her existence. The deep shadows of the Shoa wiped out the remembrance of Rabbiner Jonas. She died in Aushwitz in October 1944. Deported from Terezin on Oct 12 with her mother, she arrived by train in Aushwitz on Shabbat October 14, 1944, the 3rd of Cheshvan. Scholars believe she was gassed the same day, Shabbat Bereshit. That is why next Shabbat we will observe her yarzeit. So that we shall never again forget the incredible and important contributions of this tenacious, loving, brilliant, caring Rabbi of our people. While her ordination was a tremendous transition point for Judaism, the Shoa and its darkness and pain was also a transition point.
I tell you her story on this Yom Kippur morning because she is a hero. She imagined a future in a time of darkness. If we forget the past completely, as we did Rabbiner Jonas, we may miss some important understanding and teachings that could help us along the way to imagining our present and future.
And on holy days such a Yom Kippur we are commanded to remember the past precisely for this reason. We will recite the Yizkor service later on this morning. We will recall our loved ones memories, their lives, and everything about them. We pray that their teachings and guidance they gave us will help ground us in the New Year. For some of you it will be the only time you ever say Kaddish for them. Your lives are seemingly too busy to take a Shabbat to recite the prayer for their memorial. But my friends this is the way of forgetting the past and excising them from your present and future. But you have the power in your hands to keep memory and history alive by the choices you make and in doing so shape a bright Jewish future.
Judaism as a whole is in another huge transition moment. Our institutions are reeling from the changes in attendance patterns and support; in generational interests that differ from the past. The recent Pew study confirmed for us in leadership what we already knew that Jews were marching with their feet to a different drummer. They were marching away from the synagogue and affiliation in the community. In an increasingly secular America, Jews are increasingly secular and non-observant. Many call themselves spiritual not religious. Perhaps like some of you, once or twice a year is enough. But it is not enough to sustain institutions dedicated to Jewish life yearlong. On this holiest of days I ask to you to consider if Judaism has relevance in your day-to-day life, if the values and teaching of our traditions have impact upon your actions, if the rituals of our year and life cycle speak to you? I ask you to turn towards the Jewish people and community and amid this time of transition in Jewish culture is to re-create and re-imagine how the synagogue and other Jewish institutions function. How they are funded; how they look; and perhaps even what their missions are all about. But it isn’t only the institutions that must take stock; but each of us. I am asking each of you, challenging each of you to be a more committed and connected Jew.
At this holy season of turning, of teshuvah, let us repent for the sin of indifference to Jewish life and the life of our Jewish spirit. Individual Jews, each one of us at this season must look inside to see whether our own actions contribute to this dramatic transition in Jewish life.
In this time of Jewish transition, as the world is less than safe for Jews, the Jewish people needs each one of you and your families whether your spouse or children are Jewish or not. We need your connection and involvement. The Jewish community and the synagogue are going through transitions but we cannot and will not survive the dark forces of assimilation and annihilation that lurk ever so close if each of you absent yourselves from the process. The Jews of Berlin thought they were safe as well and although we ultimately have survived and thrived. Much was lost and much not remembered as Rabbiner Jonas’ story demonstrates.
There is one more transition at this season that we must make mention. And that is of our beloved Cantor Saltzman. After today he will transition to that glorious position of Cantor Emeritus. After more than 40 years of cantoring—(he has been doing this since he was a young teenager in Barstow). His transition to retirement from the active Cantorate is not the end of a relationship with all of us but a new phase. This is a transition for him, and for our temple. For many of us his voice carries our prayers heavenward and spirit embraces us. I know you join me in wishing him b’hatzlacha, success, rest, creativity, joy, and lots of time in Italy with Walter! But he will always be a part of us even as we transition eventually to new musical spiritual leadership.
Yom Kippur itself is about transitions. The transitions in each of you. From the person you were in the past year to the person you are yet to become. This holy day through our prayers, our remembrances, our teshuvah, and tzedakah, we can bring out the person who we always hoped to be, we can be born anew and we can with the right imagination heal ourselves and the relationships we have entered into so that they may blossom with vibrancy.
Jewish life is still rich and alive even with its many transitions. Like Jonas and Frankl who sought to make meaning out of that dark time, we too are searchers for meaning in our own day and time. We look to create a sense of belonging when there is none, a sense of hope when we are hopeless, a sense of goodness when there is evil in the world. That is our Jewish task and this is what we try to do as we today on Yom Kippur as we cleanse our souls of the traumas, sins, and imperfections that marred our daily life in the past year. God, help us start fresh, Help us remember that which we have forgotten, Help us face our future with hope and strength, and embolden us to think and act with You, God in mind. Help each one of us transition in this New Year to being a more active part of the Jewish people carrying on the covenant of our ancestors. As our Torah portion this morning will tell us. You stand commited before Adonai Your God this day, Atem Nitzavim Hayom kulchem lifnei Adonai Eloheichem. Today we too must stand committed before our God to a life connected by our covenant to the Holy One of Blessing and a covenant to one another to strengthen our souls, our people, and ourselves. Ken Yehi Ratzon.

 
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 5,337 other followers

%d bloggers like this: