Chanukah at the White House

Wednesday I had the privilege and honor of attending the White House Chanukah Celebration as President of the Central Conference of American Rabbis. It was an inspiring experience to stand among the leaders of the Jewish community from all over the United States – rabbis, lay leaders, professionals of Jewish organizations, politicians, military leaders, Conservative, Orthodox, Reform and secular Jews. It was inspiring to hear our President, Barak Obama, speak about the Macabees and the meaning of Chanukah as a season of fighting for religious liberty.
Here is an excerpt of the President’s remarks:
“The light from one day’s worth of oil has lasted not just for eight days, but for more than 2,000 years. The Maccabees’ sense of faith and courage and righteousness continue to animate the Jewish community even now. It’s no accident that when we’re called out to speak on behalf of refugees or against religious persecution, American Jews remember 
what it was like to be a stranger, and are leading the way. And even as we draw from the best of our traditions, we’re never afraid to build on what came before and to forge a better future for our children and our grandchildren.”
Alongside our President was Israel’s President, Reuven Rivlin, who also spoke to us:

“We remember the brave Maccabees. We remember they did not fight against, they fought for – for liberty, for freedom of religion, for their traditions, for our traditions, for their ability to celebrate their own identity. Hanukkah is the holy day of spiritual activism. It is a holiday which represents the spirit of human being, created equally in the image of God.
As President Rivlin lit the beautiful Menorah on loan from a museum in North Carolina, I marveled at how far the Jewish community in America has come. I think about my grandfather David Leese who came to this country as a young boy of 12 years old from Poland by himself in the 1880’s.  He never even had a Bar Mitzvah and lived in the Wild West of Butte, Montana as a furrier and tailor.  Eventually he moved back to New York his port of entry to the states and eventually to Pennsylvania.  a man who was tiny in stature, he sadly died before I was born.  Could he even have imagined his grandchild celebrating a Jewish holiday in the White House?
Indeed how far we have all come.   I was inspired by being there. I am inspired more by the freedoms so precious in our country of religious liberty. I am inspired by the light of the Chanukiah, the Menorah, to guard that precious freedom even more.

Anti-Muslim Bigotry

We released this statement on behalf of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (the oldest and largest rabbinical organization in North American which I have the privilege of serving as President) today in response to the despicable and deplorable statements made by a political candidate.

CCAR Statement Condemning Anti-Muslim Bigotry

Tuesday, December 8, 2015

The Central Conference of American Rabbis condemns anti-Muslim bigotry worldwide, in America, and in the campaign for President of the United States. Specifically, we are horrified by Donald J. Trump’s proposal that all Muslims be barred even from visiting the United States, let alone immigrating, especially as refugees are escaping persecution by the very forces that threaten the western world.

Discrimination on the basis of religion is un-American, unconstitutional, and dangerous. Jewish history has taught us that those who will discriminate on the basis of religion threaten the lives and well-being of countless human beings. As Jews, we know the heart of the stranger, and we will not stand idly by when members of another religious group are singled out as strangers.

Rabbi Denise L. Eger       Rabbi Steven A. Fox
President                        Chief Executive

Central Conference of American Rabbis

A bully is a Shanda

Recently the Jewish Journal published an article by the ever controversial Dennis Prager who wrote a mean-spirited article about transgender people and in particular Rabbi Becky Silverstein- a transgender rabbi. He serves a Conservative congregation in Pasadena, CA and is an extraordinary role model to adults and children alike for his courage and Torah.  I wrote the following letter to the editor below:
To the Editor:
I am absolutely ashamed of the Jewish Journal for allowing the publication of Dennis Prager’s attack on a rabbinic colleague and his synagogue. Sadly the Jewish Journal has a long history of publishing Prager’s vitriol and personal attacks on hard working and devoted rabbis. His hurtful words belie his bigotry which used to be reserved for gay and lesbian rabbis and now continues to expand to transgender rabbis. Haven’t we enough bullying? It is precisely this kind of immoral attack that Prager is known for. Words like his have been responsible for pain and suffering.  He tries to use the Torah as yet a way to ridicule not just liberal Jews but trans men and trans women.
The Torah has many interpretations. Not just his and in my reading of Talmud and Torah our sages recognized that we didn’t live in a binary world. They recognized that there were lots of God’s creations in human form the androgynous and the tumtum as well. How sad that Prager picks up the radicalized right wing old bathroom arguments like those used in the city of Houston by Christian extremists to defeat an equal rights amendment.  Are we to fear Transgendered people because they are predators? Is that what he is implying?  More likely Trans men and women have the most to fear because statistics show that they are the ones who are victims of violence and murder most often at the hands of white men like Prager.
Ironically just a few months ago you covered in depth this very topic in the pages of the Journal, giving voice to the Jewish community’s often hidden Trans community. And featuring the outstanding example and role model of Rabbi Becky Silverstein who Prager mentions without saying his name. (Another cowardly swipe? Or just so Prager doesn’t have to use pronouns? or was he afraid of getting sued?) Is Dennis Prager’s column of ignorance your so called “fair and balanced” reporting?

Shame on you for publishing such an attack on a rabbinic colleague who has demonstrated true Torah by teaching values of Chesed, Talmud Torah and the meaning of B’tzelem Elohim

Liberal Jews use Torah as it was intended as our covenant and document of our relationship with the Divine One. It is our guide for living life. And as our sages recognized Torah is a living document interpreted in every generation in different ways. That’s why we have so many volumes of commentary.  I am proud to be a Reform Rabbi whose movement has passed the most comprehensive transgender inclusion resolutions by our youth Movement NFTY, our Rabbis: the CCAR and our congregational communities: the URJ

Perhaps Prager ought to reread our tradition’s take on character assassination because he isn’t living by the words of our Torah. In Pirke Avot 4:11 Rabbi Eliezer says that when a person embarrasses another in public, he loses his share in the world to come. Rabbi Eliezer emphasizes that even though the perpetrator might be a fully observant Jew and a kind and generous person, if he is abusive, offends or embarrasses  someone else publicly, he loses his part in the next world.   Our  rabbis teach us that embarrassing, offending or bullying a person in public, is not a small thing. They actually compare this type of abusive behavior with murder. Maimonides (Hilkhot Teshuva 3:14) explains that in order to prevent these destructive behaviors, the rabbis warned us that embarrassing or offending someone else, carries the maximum possible penalty, no share in the Olam habah.
Perhaps it is time for a public apology from the Jewish Journal for engaging in such abusive behavior and most especially from Mr. Prager for this and so many times he has bullied others through twisting of Torah.
Rabbi Denise L. Eger,  D.D.
Congregation Kol Ami
1200 N. La Brea Avenue West Hollywood 90038

Central Conference of American Rabbis
355 Lexington Ave
New York, NY 10017

323-606-0997 fax

A Tasty Lunch with Jess at Ta-Eem

SO a newish friend and Temple member is a blogger extraordinaire. Writer. Producer. And all -around talented guy.  He invited me to be his first guest for a series on food and conversation!  Here is the link to that yummy lunch at Ta-Eem – a terrific Kosher Israeli style restaurant. Hummus as good as any in Tel Aviv, Jerusalem, Ashdod, or Afulah!   I hope you enjoy the food review–and our conversation recounted.

Tonight come to a free event at Congrega

Tonight come to a free event at Congregation Kol Ami! If you are a political junkie like I am then join me in a Conversation with Speaker Emeritus John A. Perez on the growing Latino vote and the upcoming year of political campaigns in California and our nation. All are welcome—at 7;30 pm 1200 N. La Brea. You don’t have to be Jewish to love asking questions! #latinovote #politics #ourcountry