Assimilation and Chanukah

Chanukah is anything but a child’s holiday.  Oh we have made it into a time for children with presents, and dreidles and silly Chanukah songs.  But this is a holiday that commemorates the conclusion of a brutal war.  The Syrian-Greek army against the priestly family and descendants of Mattethias who defended the rights of the Jews to worship and the ancient Temple from the Hellenizers-those Jews who would assimilate.  The irony is that in America where Jews are assimilating into the larger culture (according to the Pew Study) at an alarming rate, Chanukah is widely observed.  And yet the message of Chanukah is to resist assimilation to the larger secular and in the Maccabees’ time idolatrous culture.

The true message of the rededication of the Temple by the Maccabees was the re-establishment of true Jewish sovereignty. For the first time since the Davidic monarchy Jews ruled over themselves.  Chanukah not only commemorates the rededication of the Temple but the defeat of Greek culture and religion and the return of a priestly family to power.  The Hasmonean dynasty would barely last 150 years as soon the Hasmonean dynasty made a deal with Rome-the successor to the Greeks!

So on this third night of Chanukah–proclaim your Jewish identity proudly, light your menorah and think about the ideals of Jewish sovereignty as they are played out today in Israel.  Ask a lot of questions about the balance of the larger culture with Jewish culture in your own life? How assimilated are you? What does Chanukah ask of your Jewish faith and identity?

Let It Shine Let It Shine Let It Shine

For the second night of Chanukah we should think about the idea of “pirsum et haMitzvah”  The commandment to publicize or promote the the lighting of the chanukiah.  Our rabbinic ancestors thought we should place our chanukiah in the window to show and share the light of Chanukah!  Of course there were times in our history when doing so would have been too dangerous and so the light had to be contained.  But now more than ever we the Jewish people do have light to be shared with everyone.  We have a prophetic tradition that calls upon each of us to stand up for those who can’t and we have a calling as the Jewish people to share the light of Torah and God with others.  So as the old spiritual says… This little light of mine I’m gonna’ let it shine…Let it shine let it shine let it shine!

Tonight on this Second night of Chanukah—do just that! Let your inner light shine.  Let God’s light bathe you and your family and friends and uplift your spirits.  And let the light of justice burn brightly in these difficult times.  Let it shine let it shine let it shine!

The Courage of Chanukah

Tonight is the first night of Chanukah.  I wish each of you a light filled week of miracles.   My teacher Rabbi David Hartman z’l taught that the miracle of Chanukah was not the little jar of oil that lasted for eight nights.  And it wasn’t the defeat of Syrian-Greek army by the Maccabees.  It wasn’t the recapture of the temple or its rededication.  But the real miracle was the courage it took for the Maccabees to light the Menorah in the Temple even though they knew they only had enough for one day.  They lit it anyways.  They could have delayed.  They could have said let’s wait until we make enough.  Instead they celebrated. They rejoiced that God had delivered them and as the prophet Zechariah teaches: Not by Might, Not by Power, but by MY Spirit alone.  They had the courage to light the Menorah even though they lacked the resources of additional oil.

Sometimes we must all act.  Even if we don’t know what the outcome will be.  We have to take the step forward and light a candle in the darkness.  Sometimes we are amazed and surprised to discover we had resources we didn’t even know we had.  This is the miracle of the Maccabees.  And this remains as a legacy for us.  So light a candle in the darkness and light the way for hope and justice!  Chag Urim Sameach, Happy Chanukah

David Saperstein Wins Confirmation to Religious Freedom Post by 61-35 Senate Vote

Mazal Tov to a true Jewish Hero! Rabbi David Saperstein has become the first non-Christian to be an ambassador for Religious Freedom!  Read more by clicking the link below!


David Saperstein Wins Confirmation to Religious Freedom Post by 61-35 Senate Vote.

My heart is moved

It has taken me a few days to write about the unfolding events in Ferguson and now NYC.  My heart has been so broken and saddened.  Having grown up in the deep South I know there is a definite undercurrent of racism in our country. I have seen it.  Memphis the place where Dr. King was murdered has always been a two tier city.  It has been one city for whites and another for blacks.  Racism infects everyone and everything in this country.  Even if you are person who is not a racist, we are all touched by the inherent racism in the systems of our nation from education to government, to the justice/injustice system, health care, business, religion- everything in our United States of America has been tinged with racism.  So much so that many of us can’t even see it when it is in front of us. Even as we promote civil rights for all and indeed we have made much progress in our Country in recent decades, we are far from confronting head on the effects of that deep racism.

The recent cases all over the country-not just in Ferguson, MO or NYC but in Los Angeles and Cleveland and myriads of other towns, hamlets and villages and cities speak to a continuing harassment by law enforcement of people of color.  Driving while black or brown is not just a joke it is real.  I have watched it happen.

In the Eric Garner case since the Grand Jury came back without recommending some sort of trial coupled with the similar outcomes in the Michael Brown case and others we are seeing the frustrations boil over. And it should be all of us who are outraged.

No one is talking about the way these cases are also informed by poverty.  No one is talking about the way these cases are examples of poor policing. No one is talking about the ingrained bigotry that infects our society.

But we must. We must talk about.  And when we are through confronting our fears and our hopes we must dismantle the systems which continue to hold black and brown people at a disadvantage.  There is enough of the Pie for everyone.  The Pie keeps growing, not shrinking when everyone has access to a good education and the possibility of proper work to take care of a family, and most importantly when a black man can walk down the street without suspicion that he is automatically doing something wrong.

I pray for the lives of Eric Garner, Michael Brown, Trayvon Martin, Ezell Ford, Tamir Rice and so many others. I pray for their families. And I pray for our nation to heal itself from the dis-ease of racism and bigotry.

What Does Judaism Say About LGBT People? |

Here is my interview in the Advocate.  Although they got some facts wrong.  My Ordination year is wrong—it is HUC-JIR 1988.  I came out publicly in 1988




What Does Judaism Say About LGBT People? |

Transgender Day of Remembrance

Today is Transgender Day of Remembrance.  Nov. 20.   For the last 18 years this day has been dedicated to the memory of all those transgender men and women who have been murdered because they were hated.  Many transgender people have experienced violence and hatred directly.  Many are victims of society’s misunderstanding of their lives.

I learned long ago that God loves everyone.

In Jewish tradition the Mishnah in Sanhedrin teaches us:

“…to declare the greatness of the Holy One, blessed be God, for one stamps out many coins with one die, and they are all alike, but the King, the King of kings, the Holy One, blessed be God, stamped each person with the seal of Adam, and not one of them is like his or her fellow.”

Though we are all human beings each person is unique created from the original human being ADAM–not a man’s name in the Torah but a word that means human.  For the very first human creature was created both male and female. (See Genesis 1:27)

So God created mankind in his own image,
 in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

Our Rabbis taught that the first human being was Both Male and Female and it was only in the second creation story in Genesis chapter 2 that humanity became two separate beings.

On this Transgender day of Remembrance we mourn for the lives destroyed by hatred and violence.  And we remember we each came from the first human being –both male and female.