My sermon from Rosh Hashanah Morning 5776 on the ideal of Character.
Please read this Psalm as written by Rabbi Eleanor Steinman in her capacity as Executive Director of California Faith for Equality. This is a wonderful Psalm for waiting for a decision on the Supreme Court rulings on Prop 8 and DOMA. Prayer can be helpful. I urge you to add this to your daily meditation and prayer life. And by the way make a donation to CFE, California Faith for Equality for all the work they are doing to educate and change hearts and minds in the interfaith religious world on LGBTQI issues! Donate here.
Here is my Erev Rosh Hashanah Sermon dealing with the future of the Synagogue and the renewal of Faith that is needed.
This was given at Congregation Kol Ami 5773
Like a Bridge Over Trouble Waters
Shana Tova u metukah. I wish you each a sweet and happy New Year.
Welcome home — A feeling of home Is important in Judaism because hospitality is one of the essential Jewish responsibilities. Hospitality is making guests and friends feel comfortable in your home. We learn this value from our Patriarchs and Matriarchs; from Abraham and Sarah who welcomed friends and strangers into their tents. They made them feel welcome, rushed to greet them, washed their feet, provided food and shelter from the hot day’s sun. We aren’t having feet washing ceremony tonight…but I do hope you will feel at home. For some of you Kol Ami is your once a year stop. You are not strangers but family. Others of you are regulars- and some of you are brand new tonight to Kol Ami. Welcome-Welcome home to each of you. Cantor Saltzman and I, our board of Trustees want to say: Welcome home for the holy days.
As the great Jewish teacher and hostess Dolly Levi said: “It’s good to have you back where you belong”.
Tonight you are home where you belong. Even if you have never celebrated with Kol Ami before. You are home among the Jewish people. Your tribe is here. Your extended family is here. Your people are here. Your God is here. Judaism believes Home is the anchor, the root of our being that allows us the strength to explore and then return home in safety and in love.
No wonder the Wizard of OZ is such a powerful story… it isn’t just those sparkly ruby slippers or Judy Garland’s singing “Somewhere Over the Rainbow”. It is the knowledge-that
“There’s no place like home”.
On Rosh Hashanah and these ten days of Awe through the holiday of Sukkot, the Jewish people return each year to the home of the Jewish people…the synagogue. The synagogue has been the central address of the Jewish people since the destruction of the Beit HaMikdash, the ancient Temple in Jerusalem. The synagogue is our home.
Here is where we, the Jewish people encounter one another. Here is where we the Jewish people encounter our tradition, our Torah, our values, our ethics. Here is where we encounter God through prayer and meditation. Here is where we have a dialogue with God. We pray to God and God speaks to us through the Torah and Haftarah reading and if we are earnest enough God speaks to us in the still and quiet of our prayers.
In the Middle Ages the Synagogue was also a home away from home! It would shelter Jewish travelers. People would often sleep in the shul, in wealthier communities there would be Shabbat meals. But this is where the custom of lighting candles and reciting the kiddish in Temple began! The synagogue is our home. And yes, a reminder of the presence of God in our midst. The place the Shekinah dwells.
Like the ancient Beit Mikdash, the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, the Temple was the physical home of God on earth. And the synagogue is the heir to that holy place. And so our congregation and other holy congregation seek to be places of holiness and places of Jewish life.
Like that famous Simon and Garfunkel Song, “Like a bridge over troubled waters”. The synagogue is the bridge that keeps us safe and dry from the tumult around us. When chaos reigns, the synagogue is the place of tradition, and safety and home. When troubles get you down, the synagogue is the safe place that embraces you; when you mourn, the synagogue is the place that can help renew you and when we have joys we yearn to share, the synagogue is that kehilah kedosha, that sacred community where we can do all of that-cry and laugh, question and seek answers, play as well as pray, and we do this all in the encounter of self, and community and yes, of God.
And yet the synagogue-the home of the Jewish people has been a makom kodesh, a holy place for refuge from the choppy waters of these difficult times. And a holy place to find others of similar values and ethics. The synagogue as place of learning and living is a bridge that helps us get from here to there on the journey of life across the vast expanse of a chaotic world. The synagogue remains as the central hope and home of the Jewish people –providing a respite and a path toward resilience in these difficult times.
But sadly the synagogue is under attack these days. It is not a physical attack here in North America as it has been in France. But the synagogue is under spiritual attack from the inside. The moorings of the bridge are rusty and cables on the suspension bridge are worn thin. Neglect has undermined the foundations of our sturdy bridge, the synagogue and we risk falling into the troubled waters ourselves.
This summer while on sabbatical I studied extensively about the sustainability of the synagogue. According to demographer Steven Cohen we are losing the battle, synagogue attendance among Conservative, Reform and Reconstructionist Jews is the lowest ever! Liberal Jews are least institutionally tied to the synagogue. We are more intermarried, and our financial charitable giving goes to a broader range of activities and less to Jewish concerns.
In generations past the synagogue was our primary recipient of charitable giving. But not today. I want you to think about how many fellow Jews you know that will not even be in any synagogue during the High Holy Days, let alone the rest of the year. I am sure we all can name a few!
Rosh Hashanah is a time for renewal. A new year begins tonight. It needs to be a spiritual time to renew the holy places in ourselves and in our synagogue. Rather than just a one-time stop-we Jews have to take time to refresh, and secure the future of the synagogue that is that bridge for us and future generations. Yes the synagogue will have to adapt to new technologies alongside ancient traditions. But to help us reinforce the holy space inside of us –we need to have models of holy places around us and that we can enter into.—The Synagogue is that place for Jews and those who are part of our families. As the prophet Isaiah teaches. My House shall be a house of prayer for all people!
And let’s be brutally honest with each other. Synagogues cannot do what you want them to do without the funds to do so. God is free, synagogues are not. When you want the rabbi there for you, when you need a place to say kaddish. You want the synagogue around when you have a crisis in your relationship or meet the woman of your dreams and want to marry then you need the synagogue and the rabbi and the cantor around. When you want to study more spirituality in Judaism or celebrate a Bar Mitzvah. You want the synagogue around. When you want moral guidance and you want to know how to navigate those choppy waters that crash against us-you want the synagogue around. When you are grieving and you need a place to say Kaddish-you want the synagogue around.
But if you ignore it, get angry or annoyed because the synagogue asks for support then you are contributing to its demise. But synagogues can’t endure without something else….PEOPLE! If no one is here. If it is a relic of times gone by, if it is just a museum. Then the synagogue and The Jewish people will be weakened to the point of extinction.
So what can we do to ensure the wellbeing of the synagogue. To ensure the future of the places of Jewish gathering. To ensure the sustainability of Kol Ami? I know you are thinking that right now I am going to ask you all to make a pledge of money. I will do that… or someone will later. But I believe there is more to it than money.
I believe strongly the key to renewing the centrality of the synagogue and ensuring the strong stable future of the synagogue is the confrontation with and rekindling of our faith.
I am not only talking about faith in God. I am talking about faith in our People! I am talking about trust in one another. I am talking about the hope that the Jewish civilization that was passed down to us from our ancestors and shaped now by our take in the contemporary world as our ancestor shaped Judaism in theirs, will be strong enough and resilient enough to pass to our children and future generations. But if we let the cynicism of our times creep into our shuls and into our hearts, then the synagogue is not long for this world and the bridge that has sustained us as a people will succumb to the same choppy seas.
Faith has been harder for those of us that need proof. Faith in something larger than ourselves, faith in one another, all seem to have been dashed into those troubled waters as well. It is as if we wait for disappointment and then say, “I told you so.” We assume the worst.
Rosh Hashanah is here to help us assume the best. The best in ourselves and in our community. The Shofar is calling you to examine your faith, and renew your Jewish spirit. The shofar is calling you to awaken to the resilience that faith gives us. The shofar is calling on you to strengthen the synagogue as the home of our people. The shofar is calling you to have faith in God, faith in the goodness of humanity and your fellow Jews, faith in one’s self.
And so tonight I want to share with you three ideas about faith that I also believe will help shore up the synagogue in North Amercia, our synagogue, Kol Ami, in addition to helping shore up our own personal spiritual journeys through this High Holy Day Season and throughout the year
There is a huge debate in Jewish philosophy the centers around the idea: Do you have to believe in God to be a good Jew? I tell you from experience it isn’t only the philosophers like Maimonides who ask this question, its many of you! I constantly get –Hey, Rabbi I am not religious, I am a bad Jew? Or “I don’t believe in God am I still Jewish?” I don’t believe in God of the Bible does that make me not Jewish? Let me say I don’t believe in the God described in the bible either—and I know I am still Jewish.
The tradition teaches variations on this idea. For some belief in the idea of One God it is essential to being a good Jew for others it is about doing not believing. It is about acting. Do you act in Jewish ways? Do you perform mitzvoth? Are you ethical in your dealings? These are the essentials of Jewish life. For many of our sages the doing precedes the faith.
As Rabbi Chanina Ben Dosa taught in Pirke Avot: When deeds exceed learning, learning endures, but when learning exceeds deeds, learning does not endure. (3:12).
In other words Judaism has a bias on responsible action that we call mitzvoth!
Faith is borne out of the experiential in Judaism, not the miraculous the splitting of seas, or the burning bushes that don’t burn, but the deep and abiding experience of comforting the sick, walking with the mourner, teaching Torah to our children. Faith in something greater than ourselves is built on a foundation of right and just action, caring and loving kindness.
But this is not the only idea when we couple just action with the teachings of the great Maimonides, Rambam advocates for belief. You must believe in the idea of the One God he teaches. But of course for Maimonides God is not some other being sitting on the throne of judgment. God is the essence of the universe, pure intellect. And thus belief in God and the oneness of God is the idea that the entire faith venture is predicated on the philosophical basis of the great mind which unifies the universe. The project of faith building then is not waiting for God to PROVE God’s existence but faith is about the unification of the self with what we call God. The Unification and development of the intellect while performing acts of kindness and responsibility in the world. This is the touchstone of a mature Jewish faith. Faith in God. Not a separate entity –not a capricious, omnipotent Being. But the creative spark and breath of the Universe that we are a part of. And were created in the image of!
As Rabbi Jack Reimer writes; “The first kind of faith you need to bring with you for the holidays. Is faith in God. I know how hard that can be to have”; he writes, “But unless you have some conviction that there is an order and a structure to the universe that the world is not hefker, (which mean ownerless property that can be possessed by the one who claims it), that morality is not just a matter of opinion, in short that there is a God; the service tonight and every night will be an empty show; a boring performance. Bring faith in God with you and Aleynu will be a majestic moment, the Amidah will be an intimate conversation….”
I know that when you recite the Shema prayer you will seek that Union with the godliness in all humanity and in the deep historical connections to the past and the historical connection that reach beyond in the future. You can experience through that a sense of faith-the eternality that we pray for.
One way to think about the Divine Idea we call God—is that it is the extra push within us to persevere. Just when you think you have run out of gas, God is the reserve that gets you to the next exit.
If you can open yourself up to faith in this Jewish idea of God then you will help shore up the foundation of the synagogue as the holy place of faithful encounter with God and learning about this God. Since this is God’s house.
The second kind of faith that will shore up our synagogue is the faith in our Jewish People. We are scruffy sort. We have endured so many attempts to suppress us, to murder the Jews, to isolate us. We have a heritage of standing strong with Jews in crisis around the world and with all who suffer and are oppressed.
It is not just the explosion and rebirth of the Jewish people after the Shoa- including the birth of Israel. But in our own lifetimes-the rescue of Soviet Jewry, and the Ethiopian Jews, and the rebirth of Jewish life in Eastern Europe. The flourishing of Jewish life here in North America that attests to our resilience as a People. We need to have faith in our fellow Jews that at the end of the day they will come through. Even when we disagree about halachah, or that some Jews claim superiority over others Jews- we must have faith in the ideal of Klal Yisrael-the overarching connection and ties of the People Israel to one another.
Once there was a bookkeeper of synagogue. She told the rabbi she wasn’t going to her Temple’s High Holy Day services anymore and she was thinking of quitting her congregation. The Rabbi concerned that something was deeply wrong pressed her a bit further. “What could have possibly happened is something wrong with your health? “The bookkeeper replied, no I am fine –I just know too much about our Temple members who I would have to pray with and the rude behaviors they expressed. I can’t pray with those kind of people around me. “
I think she is wrong. There are always hypocrites. There are always people who don’t live up to common courtesies or people who grow up without manners. But at the High Holy Days especially we need find the room to forgive each other’s’ shortcomings. And restore our faith in one another. Teshuvah, repentance and forgiveness is the major theme of this time of year. Cut each other a break. And cut yourself a break. Because God does that for you.
That faith in one another will strengthen the Jewish people and when we gather together, like tonight we strengthen the synagogue by our presence. Even if we doubt our faith in God, we need to restore our faith in each other. We need to reach out to each other-in good times and yes, in difficult times too. We aren’t just temple members at a temple function. We are members of this community when we are out and about. A hello at a restaurant or event an acknowledgement of your people. That will strengthen the synagogue, our synagogue. Our sacred community
The third kind of faith that I believe will strengthen the bridge; the synagogue, and perhaps the most important… is faith in yourself. In a world where we are assaulted by a daily barrage of information, of impossible airbrushed perfection, of the television show that resolves in 22 minutes, we are surrounded by the easy way. But life isn’t easy. It is filled with ups and downs and difficult moments. To strengthen the bridge is to look fear in the face. And to know we can. When you have faith in yourself, supported by faith in God and faith in your Tribe-you can breathe deeply as you step into the unknown.
Faith in yourself is not that you are already perfect-faith is that you can grow and change and be the person that you want to be. That it is never too late to become who you dream of becoming. That is faith in yourself. THE POWER OF THE UNIVERSE
An ancient midrash tells of God who was trying to decide where to hide the power of the universe so that humanity would not find it and use it destructively.
One angel said, “let us hide it on top of the highest mountain” … But they decided that humanity would eventually scale the highest mountain and find this power.
Another angel said, “let us hide this power at the bottom of the sea.” … Again it was decided that humanity would eventually explore the depths of the sea.
Still a third angel suggested, “let us hide the great power of the universe in middle of the earth.” … But they realized that humanity would someday conquer that region, too.
Finally God said, “I know what to do. Let us hide the great power of the universe within the human being . They will never think to look for it there.” According to the midrash, they did hide the power of the universe within humanity, and it is still there.
Moral: Few people have ever realized that the great power of the universe lies within themselves .. that’s right … YOUR SUCCESS LIES WITHIN YOURSELF
Rosh Hashanah is the beginning of the New Year and has the potential to be the beginning of a new you. Our tradition teaches us that the whole word is a narrow bridge-but the main principle is not to be afraid… don’t face it with fear… face it with intellect, reason, strength and heart. Faith in yourself is necessary to make the changes that will propel your spiritual journey, For the next 3 weeks until we dance with the Torah scrolls on Simchat Torah-we have a season of Reinvinention and a season of Resiliance. We are here to regain faith in ourselves that we can let go of past hurts that we caused or were done to us. That we resilient human beings can believe in ourselves once again to rebuild our inner lives and affect our outer world.
These 3 kinds of renewed faith are the keys to helping us strengthen the bridge over troubled water. These 3 kinds of faith connect in the synagogue to help us walk into a better future. The synagogue is the home of the Jewish people. But if you don’t have faith in God or your people or yourself- why would you support the very institution that is the nexus of all these? My friends we need you to support this synagogue. Many of you because of your own situations, your own doubts, your own fears have left it to a few to nurture it and yes, fund it. But as I said earlier, the attack on the synagogue is not from without it is from within. And if we ignore the synagogue, and we ignore the questions of our own deep spiritual explorations of faith I can assure you the struggles of synagogues in N. America will continue the downward slide.
“C’mon, I’ve got an idea.” George said to Sam.
“What is it this time? “Sam complained as the two men walked down the street. Since they retired George was always coming up with ideas to keep their days filled with activities. “Whatcha got in that bag?”
“You’ll see, “George said as he tightened his grip on the grocery bag in his arms.
“Well can you at least tell me where we’re going? Sam asked.
“We’re going to the park, “
“Count me out,” Sam said and abruptly stopped. “That park looks like a wasteland. There’s trash everywhere. Somebody needs to clean it up before anyone can think about spending any time there.”
“You’re somebody,” said George. “And I’m somebody. And I’ve got some garbage bags and gloves right here. I’ve even got some of that no-rinse hand wash stuff and snacks for later.”
“Oh great, “Sam replied sarcastically, “And why are we doing this?”
“Because this is the park in our neighborhood and if we don’t take care of it, no one else will.” Explained George, “And besides, it where we’re going to start doing Tai Chi in the mornings, stay in shape, get some fresh air.” George puffed up his chest and gave Sam a wink.
George and Sam continued on. When they arrived at the park, George pulled out the two garbage bags and handed one to Sam.
“I used to love bringing my kids here when they were young.” Said Sam. “What’s happened to this place? He looked around at the unhinged see-saw, overturned benches, and broken swings.
“We just forgot it was here for us to enjoy.” said George.
“Here’s to reclaiming some of that old splendor,” said Sam as he opened his bag and started picking up the debris.
It is a season of renewal and reinvention. As we join together to reinvent ourselves. Let’s join together to reinvent the synagogue-the hope of the Jewish future. Let’s return the synagogue, the bridge over troubled water to the splendor our ancestors, our grandparents; our parents knew it to be. Let it be the hope of sustenance for you and for me. And let us walk fearlessly together over that narrow bridge, Kol Haolam Kulo Gesher Tzar M’od, v’haikar lo l’fached.
Ken Yehi Ratzon
This week’s Torah Portion Mikketz continues the story of Joseph now in Egypt. This week Joseph rises from the depth of prison to interpret the Pharaoh’s dream and ends up the Viceroy of all of Egypt! This is true rocket power! Joseph a foreign slave catapults himself to be the #2 in Egypt. Joseph correctly explains the Pharaoh’s dream of seven fat cows and seven skinny cows predicting the coming cycle of boom and bust. Joseph of course attributes the message not to Pharaoh’s own power but to God.
“Joseph said to Pharaoh, “The dream of Pharaoh is a single one: what God is about to do, God has told to Pharaoh; the seven good cows are seven years and the good ears (of corn) are seven years. Now the seven emaciated and bad cows that emerged after them –they are seven years; as are the seven emaciated ears scorched by the east wind. There shall be seven years of famine. (Gen 41:25-27).
Not only does Joseph interpret the dream but he then presents a plan for preparation for these years. His skills are transformational. And Pharaoh recognizes this wisdom in Joseph. Pharaoh takes a risk and names him in charge of this plan to manage the seven good years so that in times of famine Egypt will be prepared.
The Torah teaches us in these passages two profound things. First faith in God matters. Joseph’s success and protection came not because of his skills alone. It came because he was aware of his Higher Power. Joseph acknowledges his truth that God lights his way in the world even above that of the Pharaoh. This is a radical political statement as well as statement of faith because the Pharaohs of Egypt were seen as gods. Joseph stands up to power, speaks truth and honesty, and also keeps his faith in God.
The second profound message of this section of Mikketz has to do with disaster preparedness. One must always be prepared; for good times and for bad times. It is not if they will happen but when. If we ignore the warnings and put blinders on we will sacrifice our own lives. So like a good Girl Scout: Be Prepared. That means putting something away for a rainy day.
This portion comes as we celebrate Chanukah. This is a holiday of light that reminds us that God helps us fight our battles against our enemies. Just as God inspired the faith of the Maccabees, we pray that God inspire us and help us draw near to our faith.
The story of the Maccabees also helps to remind us that we must be prepared. That we can last and last and last even when we think we have no more to give, this is the analogy of the jar of oil. But that cruse of oil is re-filled each day from our storehouse of faith and hope. It’s time to rekindle your faith. Let the chanukiah help you do so.
Deuteronomy 7:12 – 11:25
Rabbi Denise L. Eger
With preparation almost everything is possible. With the proper training program you can learn to run a marathon or ride a bike 500 miles for charity! It is a matter of discipline. It is a matter of dedication and it is a matter of preparation. It is a matter of training and building your endurance.
For example the LA Marathon held each spring has all kind of training programs to help people get in shape physically for the grueling race of 26.2 miles. Whether you live in LA proper or the Inland Empire you can work with the LA Roadrunners group to get you off the couch and across the finish line of the LA Marathon. Registration is now open if you want to discipline yourself and your body to be ready for this endurance race.
The same is true of the AIDS LifeCycle-the more the 500 mile bike ride from San Francisco to Los Angeles next June. Many of our Temple members have participated through the years even though they weren’t regular bike riders to begin with. And even if you haven’t been on a bicycle since childhood there are many training schedules and programs that will help discipline you for this wonderful mitzvah to help conquer AIDS. This is the link to learn more about the training workshops.
And these are but two examples of how discipline, structure and belief in the cause might help someone achieve a great goal! But it doesn’t just happen because one decides to do so. It takes discipline, fortitude and perseverance. Especially for the times when the training is grueling and the body is tired or not willing!
In this week’s Torah portion Ekev, Moses shares some sage advice with the children of Israel as they are preparing to enter the Promised Land. Moses reminds the people that their journey from Egypt to the edge of Israel/Canaan was a process and describes this journey as the preparation and training for the task ahead. The forty years of desert wanderings which was once described as the consequence of a lack of faith in God (see Parshat Shelach Lecha) is now described by Moses as discipline and training for the era to come. The forty years in the desert was the necessary precursor to ready the people for the challenges of coming into and settling the Promised Land.
Moses says to the people “Remember the long way that Adonai your God has made you travel in the wilderness these past forty years that God might test you by hardships to learn what was in your hearts…” (Deut. 8:2). These tests were not merely trials but each experience along the way was to discipline and train the generations who would enter the Promised Land. Each was an opportunity to build faith and fortitude. Each encounter in the wilderness of Sinai was part of creating endurance in the Jewish people so that they would continue to honor their covenant even once they had settled the Promised Land. Moses says, “God subjected you to the hardship of hunger and then gave you manna to eat,…in order to teach you that humanity does not live on bread alone, but that a person may live on anything God decrees.” (Deut. 8:3).
Moses reminds the children of Israel anything is possible. Sustenance will come from God in many forms, bread, manna, and yes from their faith built through these years of desert training! And Moses then places this training and the miraculous events that helped the Children of Israel do their wilderness training. “The clothes upon you did not wear out nor did your feet swell these forty years. Bear in mind that Adonai your God is disciplining you just as a father disciplines his son.” (Deut. 8:4-5). This isn’t punishment but discipline as learning, as training, as preparation for a new life. Just as a parent tries to teach life lessons, Moses is trying to help us see God is teaching the Israelites life lessons. It isn’t always flowers and warm fuzzies but often that training and discipline is difficult. And it hardens one for the end result. In this case it was settling the Promise Land.
So the next time you set a goal in mind. Remember that it is possible but it will take endurance, perseverance, discipline, and yes faith. Just as it did for our ancestors as they entered the Promised Land. Happy Training!
So more and more people are moving away from organized religion says Robert Putnam and David Campbell (read LA Times article here). They are the authors of a new book “American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us.”
This is something I hear all the time from people. They don’t believe in religion because they can’t prove its truth. They can’t prove God’s existence or not. They want to know the Bible is history. They come at it looking for facts rather than for truths. These are different altogether.
In my studies at the Shalom Hartman Institute this was in part the subject of our lecture Monday. People used to an age of certainty stemming from the Enlightenment period when science and history ruled and now in this age of Doubt are used to having to prove the claims of everything: Science, Psychology, Religion included. When Religion isn’t designed to prove claims. It is designed to create meaning, to add awe and wonder to our lives, to enhance beauty and help us live lives of holiness and meaning and develop love.
No wonder especially in Evangelical circles people are leaving in droves. The simplistic rendering of texts without literary criticism, without questioning being valued runs contrary to developing real faith in this kind of era. Pat answers without responding to the world as it is. Responding to the world as it was doesn’t help people respond in this era of Doubt and Uncertainty. The world is moving so fast each day that we humans can hardly respond. Mostly folks tell me they are overwhelmed by life.
That is why I love Judaism so. It encourages questions. It allows for doubt and struggle and God wrestling. It allows for the possibility that even God can change God’s mind. (See the stories of Moses convincing God not to destroy the Israelites after the Golden Calf episode)
There is a lot more to say on this.
So much going on in the world today….. including the holy day of Shavuot—the Feast of Weeks. Chag Sameach everyone. It is a day to celebrate the Torah. Even as we struggle with it!
Yesterday was an important day for faith leaders who came together to stamp out Homophobia globally. Read below for more!
(New York, NY – Monday, May 17, 2010)
On the annual International Day Against Homophobia, a coalition of national faith leaders announced that they are launching a campaign based on the “Uganda Declaration” to begin mobilizing faith leaders to work for decriminalization of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people based on their tradition’s human rights policies and official statements against violence. Motivated by Uganda’s proposed “anti-homosexuality” bill, with its death penalty and extradition clauses, the coalition began its work by challenging the export of homophobia to Uganda by evangelicals from the United States. It is expanding its concerns to asking faith leaders from all traditions to use their faith networks and official policies on human rights to challenge the more than 80 countries with laws against homosexuality—seven with the death penalty. “Faith leaders in the United States know that almost all faith traditions have statements on the books that support human rights for all people,” said, Bruce Knotts, Executive Director of the Unitarian Universalist United Nations Office. “They are realizing that, regardless of their beliefs about sexual orientation or gender identity, their traditions support the human rights of all people. Faith leaders are stepping up to take action to stop state sponsored violence and all violence against LGBT people.” The “Uganda Declaration” gave examples of violence against LGBT people such as: Lesbians in the townships of South Africa can still expect to be raped as a “cure” In Malawi, a couple was imprisoned for announcing their engagement Young gay men in the privacy of their own home in Jamaica were attacked with machetes Transgender women and men are often targets for violence in the United States In Pakistan, lesbians may face “honor” killings, and gay men are targets for police actions Since November 2008, at least 8 transgender people have been murdered in Turkey. The campaign will seek a cross section of officials in denominations and faith traditions as well as LGBT faith leaders and concerned people to sign the “Uganda Declaration” and commit themselves to work proactively for decriminalization of LGBT people throughout the world. Louise Brooks, Communications Director for Integrity, said, “Fair-minded faith leaders in places like Uganda, the United States and throughout the world must speak out and use their faith networks to stop the hate, get rid of the anti-LGBT laws and live out their own core values of care for God’s people.” “People of faith are seeing that their international HIV-AIDS grants are being undermined by fear and homophobia,” sad, Dr. Sylvia Rhue of the National Black Justice Coalition. “When homophobia rules the day, LGBT people are afraid of getting attacked at the clinics so they stop going. Fear and misunderstanding make the HIV/AIDS epidemic much more lethal.”