Jews of the Ukraine in the Cross Hairs

Dear Friends,

This is a post from the World Union of Progressive Judaism about the situation in Ukraine.  This morning another synagogue was vandalized.  It seems history is repeating itself.  Please read below and consider helping. 

Dear World Union Family:

 This morning, as our community members arrived at the synagogue center in Simferopol, they discovered anti semitic slogans stating “Death to the Jews” painted all over the doors of the synagogue, as well as damage to windows and other parts of the building.  


As the unrest in Ukraine unfolds, concerns for the safety and well being of our communities in the Ukraine is growing steadily, especially in the rural areas and Crimea.


As seen on the news, the Crimean peninsula is considered of strategic importance to Russia, and at the time of this newsflash it seems that Russian troops have occupied the main airports and centers of power in the capital and surroundings. This violent atmosphere has quickly given rise to harassment and attacks on our communities.

 Rabbi Michael Kapustin says:” The city is occupied by Russians. Apparently Russians intend to take over the Crimea and make it a part of Russia.  If this were the case I would leave the country. In this case I will leave this country since I want to live in democratic Ukraine. In the meanwhile, in spite of all  our hesitation,s my family has decided to stay. If anyone comes tonight I will be in the synagogue to light the candles. Wider Shabbat services will not take place due to security reasons.  

 According to Anatoly Gendin, chair of the community, “Clearly, it was important for the anti-Semites to commit this crime. Since the crisis began prices went up by 30%, pensions aren’t being paid.  As usual, Jews are blamed  reason of these disasters and Jews are held responsible. I am afraid to think how this will progress. “

  As the situation is unsafe, the community has instructed all members to stay indoors and stock up on food and supplies.

 The WUPJ has initiated an emergency campaign to support our communities through this crisis, and hope to provide  in hope to provide urgently needed security measures, supplies and equipment to the communities. If you are interested in joining this effort please click here


We hope and pray that quiet will return soon to the streets of Ukraine, and as Shabbat settles in on the streets.

 Ose Shalom Bimromov – May the One who makes peace in the heavens, help bring peace here on earth, for all the Household of Israel and for all God’s creations.

 Shabbat Shalom

 Mike Grabiner, Chairman of World Union for Progressive Judaism

Anne Molloy, Chair of WUPJ FSU Committee

Alex Kagan, Director of WUPJ FSU Program



IF USING A CREDIT CARD, in box that says, “ENTER DESCRIPTION” Please indicate Ukraine APPEAL






Light filled Chanukah!

I want to wish each of you a light filled Chanukah.

I hope you will extend your inner light to someone else this year.

A smile, a helping hand, a listening ear, a gift of tzedakah for those in need.

I hope you will be inspired by the story of Chanukah with the courage of the Macabees.

I hope you will be inspired to believe that you can do what seems impossible.

I hope you will dedicate and rededicate holy space in your life to blessing life and God’s gift of life.

I hope that you will come celebrate Chanukah with me on Friday, Dec. 14, at 7 pm at Congregation Kol Ami  and don’t forget your Chanukiah so we can do all these things together!

Happy Chanukahlens18883572_1321325460Menorah

No One is Exempt

Parshat  Korach

Numbers  16:1 -18:32

 No one exempt.

That is the rule in Judaism. Everyone must give tzedakah and everyone must tithe.

This week’s Torah portion, Korach, makes that extremely clear.  It describes the obligations of Levites in this regard.  The Levites received all of the sacred offering from the Israelite nation intended for God.  This includes the tithe of the harvest and new grain as well.  “When you receive from the Israelites their tithes, which I have assigned to you as your share, you shall remove from them one-tenth of the tithe as a gift to God (Numbers 18:26). “

The Levites receive these gifts to the Temple in part for God but also to sustain their families as well. The Levites have no land of their own. The other tribes will settle the land of Israel and will be given territories. They will farm and graze their herds and flocks.  But the Levites will not be assigned land of their own. Their sole duty is to serve God and will do so in the Tabernacle and later the Temple.

How then do they sustain their families?  The tithing system was in part a way to pay for the priesthood and their families and in part for God.

But even the Levites when they receive their share must then in turn take and set aside the best parts for God and from the remaining portion give their own tithe to God and the Temple.

Indeed no one is exempt.

We Jews were the original tithers.  This means we are supposed to give up to 10 percent of our income to the upkeep of the Jewish people.  Makes Temple membership dues look relatively inexpensive when compared to tithing!!!  But if everyone would tithe to the Jewish community we would have the vibrancy we need to really transform lives and the world.

This sacred ideal that everyone gives including the priesthood was extended by the Talmud as well.

Maimonides wrote, “Even a poor person who lives entirely on tzedakah must also give tzedakah to another.” (Mishnah Torah Chapter 7, Line 5)

Even the individual that takes tzedakah from the community must turn and give tzedakah as well. Everyone must be part of the overall solution.  This is because the sacred duty to engage in righteous justice is everyone’s obligation.  There are no entitlements in the Jewish community.  Everyone must give.  So while we read Parshat Korach I hope you will consider your giving to the Jewish community, to tzedakah and to support your congregation especially the dues renewal process will begin this coming week.   If your not a member of a synagogue now is the time to support the central institution of the Jewish people, however you can. No one is exempt.

A thought for the day after Thanksgiving

Thought for the day:

What is the real meaning of the day after Thanksgiving?  Is it really “Black Friday”?  Is it really the holy day of consumerism?  Or is this a day to reflect and act upon the things said around the Thanksgiving table.  When you possess a daily attitude of gratitude and live a life filled with the acknowledgement of the abundance and richness of life.  Things will be less important.  It is not he or she who has the most toys wins.  It is she or he who lives a life of meaning, purpose, giving, blessing, righteousness, lovingkindness and charity that will sustain you even in times of sadness or darkness.

These aren’t just platitudes but timeless and ageless and eternal values of the Jewish people.   Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel wrote these words:

God is more immediately found in the Bible as well as in acts of kindness and worship than in the mountains and forests. It is more meaningful for us to believe in the immanence of God in deeds than in the immanence of God in nature. Indeed, the concern of Judaism is primarily not how to find the presence of God in the world of things but how to let Him enter the ways in which we deal with things; how to be with Him in time, not only in space. This is why the mitsvah is a supreme source of religious insight and experience. The way to God is a way of God, and the mitsvah is a way of God,..a mitsvah is where God and man meet.


On Giving Charity-a righteous commandment

Parshat Korach

Numbers 16:1-18:32

At the end of this week’s Torah portion (Numbers 18:21-32) the Levites are instructed to tithe a part of their earnings to God.  The Torah emphasizes this because all of the Children of Israel are obligated to give one tenth of their produce and their income as an offering to God.  Even the Levites, the priesthood is not exempt from this most important offering.

What makes this different in part is that the Levites had no property of their own. No fields or orchards of their own.  According to our Torah their earnings came from the tithes of the other Israelites.  They ate of it and fed their families on the tithings of the people.

But then they must turn around and set aside an additional tenth of what they received. The High Priest receives it from them for upkeep in the Temple and for God.

The other major section in the Torah on tithing comes from the book of Deuteronomy 14:22-27 and Deuteronomy 26:12.

But the oldest mention of tithing comes from the story of Abraham who gives a tenth of his the spoils of war against the four Kings who captured his nephew Lot to Melchizedek.

But our Sages in the Talmud tried to synthesize some conflicting information on tithing.  They determined that tithing consists of the following responsibilities:

Terumah:  A gift to a Kohen who eats it only in a state of ritual purity. It is sacred food and is a sixtieth or fortieth of the crop. It comes from wine, corn, oil, vegetables or fruit.

Maaser Rishon:  A tenth of the remainder of the crop is the first tithe.  It is given to the Kohen or a Levite. But a Levite must separate a tenth of that give it to a Kohen  and this is what our torah portion speaks of. This part given by the Levite is called the terumat maaser.

Maaser Sheni:  This is the second tithe and must be taken to Jerusalem and eaten there.  It can be converted into a sum of money and then food can be purchased in Jerusalem to be eaten there.

Maaser Oni: This tithe was the second tithe that was given to the poor in year three and six of the sabbatical year cycle.

The rabbis ruled that the tithing was only in the Land of Israel or when a majority of the Jews lived in the land of Israel.  Once the Temple was destroyed we could not give the Terumah offering.

There is a discussion of maaser kesafim-which is a tithing of all of one’s earnings.  But there is a debate among the rabbis if this is an actual law derived from Torah or from the Rabbis.

What becomes clear from all of our Sages is that giving tzedakah is critical. Everyone must give tzedakah. While there is debate about the percentage and whether that percentage is on gross income or net income after certain expenses like one’s children’s education, the Shulchan Aruch seems to puts the giving of tzedakah into four categories: the ideal for a very wealthy person; the ideal for an average person; the recommended minimum for an average person; and the absolute minimum that a person should give each year.

If a person can afford it she should give as much tzedakah as the poor require.
If she is unable to give that much she should give at least one fifth: the first year from her capital, and from then on every year one fifth of her profits.
One tenth is the average quantity that a person should give, less than this is miserliness.

A person should not give less than three shekels a year to charity

In other words, while tithing is a standard for the average person even the poorest among us must give some tzedakah. So this week give a gift of tzedakah to the charity of your choice.

More on Synagogue Life

There are some ins and outs of synagogue life that are a bit unwritten. In an earlier generation of synagogue members there were traditions of giving. But increasingly in congregations people seem to not know what to do.

So… in the spirit of bringing to light that which is hidden let’s explore ways you might support your synagogue community beyond dues.

First and foremost volunteer.  Join a committee or group within the congregation.  Most synagogue communities rely on volunteer help and advice to thrive.  When you absent yourself from the governance life of the congregation, thinking others will shape it, direct it, and keep it strong it is a recipe for the synagogue to lack direction.  Offer your help. Agree to chair an event. Work on the website. Take pictures at a program. Help stuff envelopes once a week.  Usher at services and welcome someone new!

Other ways to support the temple is to pick one fund at your congregation and adopt it.  Most congregations have multiple funds to support programs and building and scholarships. This is in addition to the general operating fund.  Make quarterly donations to specific funds: the endowment fund, the campership fund, the music fund, the clergy discretionary funds.  This helps support the synagogue and take the burdens off the general operating funds to pay for the programming and allows the congregation to maintain good financial health!

If your congregation has yarzeit plaques, buy plaques in memory of your loved ones. Not only will kaddish be said for your friends and family and you will create a lasting memorial but you are giving tzedakah in their memory. These funds go to help the synagogue as well.

Sponsor a Shabbat oneg.  Make it in honor of a birthday or anniversary or a friend visiting town.  It is a lovely way to celebrate a wonderful occasion at temple among your spiritual community.

These are some ways you can more fully engage in creating the sacred space of your congregational community.  It is more than just showing up for an occasional service or class or dropping your kids off at Religious school. The Synagogue can only be a dynamic and sacred space -if you are there making it so.

Synagogue Etiquette, culture and knowing the ropes

There are lots of folks who have never belonged to a synagogue community.  And in their spiritual journey they seek out the benefits of belonging to a synagogue.  The benefits are many.  It is hard to be Jewish on your own.  Oh, I know people do it all the time.  They are unafilliated. In fact in Los Angeles more Jews don’t belong to a synagogue than do.   It can be intimidating if you don’t know the synagogue culture. It can be expensive.  It can be frustrating. After all a synagogue is made up of people!!!!

And every synagogue community is a bit different.  That has some further frustrations.

And yet taking a spiritual journey with a group of people can be one of the most exciting and meaningful adventures that you have ever been on.  Living out your values, doing acts of justice, mercy and kindness, learning and learning and growing some more; making new friends. Feeling like you finally belong. Knowing you have come home. Seeking peace. These are some of the intangible benefits of belonging to a sacred community.

And there are practical benefits. You might learn to finally read Hebrew. You might learn some new music.  You will have a rabbi and cantor to guide you and be with you as you travel through life. If you are blessed with children,  you have a place to educate them.