Friday, July 31, 2015

Love and Hate - My weekly message for Shabbat Nachamu 2015/5775


Love and hate are two feelings that seem contradictory to one another, and yet, there’s adage that is often quoted:  there’s a fine line between love and hate.  In Judaism, that line is just 6 days:  from the 9th of Av to the 15th of Av.  Within the span of one week, we journeyed from hate to love in the Jewish calendar. 

Last Saturday night and Sunday, we gathered together at Shaarei Kodesh in mourning for the loss of our holy Temples, the destruction of Jerusalem, and a number of other tragedies that befell our people throughout history. We observed this holiday with the one of only two 25-hour fasts that occur in Judaism.  On Yom Kippur and on Tisha B’av, we abstain from food and drink, sexual relations, anointing ourselves, bathing, and wearing leather soled shoes.  Jewish tradition calls Yom Kippur the white fast and Tisha B'Av the black fast.  On the white fast when our sins are being forgiven, who needs to eat?  On the black fast when we remember the tragedies of our people, who can eat?    As I spoke about last Shabbat, Tisha B’av is a time when we allow ourselves to be sad as we remember a destructive past.  Our rabbis gave us reasons for the tragedies, and our rabbis said that the second Temple in particular was destroyed because of Sinat Chinam.  This term is usually translated as causeless hatred, but I like to translate it as unbridled or free hatred.  On Tisha B’Av, our rabbis urged us to reflect upon how we can be better as a nation and how we can banish hatred to prevent future destruction. 

Last night, Tu B’Av, the 15th of Av, began. The Mishnah tells us: “There were no better days for the people of Israel than the Fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur, since on these days the daughters of Jerusalem go out dressed in white and dance in the vineyards. What they were saying: Young man, consider who you choose (to be your wife).” (Taanit 4:8). Tu B'Av is collective day of love, a contrast to the day of sadness, destruction, and the remembrance of hate, of Tisha B’Av.  Tu B'Av is a time for us to come together out of love.  How are these two seemingly contradictory emotions related to each other?  I read an interesting comment by a Rabbi Yochanan Zweig, a Miami based Orthodox rabbi on this dichotomy.  He states the following: 

Loving and hating someone is an expression of the same fundamental type of relationship. Loving someone means a desire to merge (emotionally) into another. Hating someone is a similar desire to merge, while at the same time preserving your identity. An improper hate situation is akin, in the corporate world, to a hostile takeover. With enemies and loved ones, you want the same thing: you want two entities to become one. In a love relationship, you are trying to gain a merged and new identity of yourself and your loved one. In an improper hate relationship, you are trying to take over your enemy. The hate/merger is an attempt to dominate the other, which is, in reality, a way of rejecting the other.

This week, we saw two horrific acts perpetrated by Jews in what they believed were in God’s name.  First, an Ultra-Orthodox man stabbed six people in a gay pride parade in Jerusalem, and the murder of a Palestinian baby in an arson attack by Jewish terrorists.  In both cases, it seems the perpetrators had a passion that overtook them and a hate that forced them to try and literally conquer their enemy.  Fortunately, these two incidences are not indicative of the vast majority of our people.  I believe they are outliers, but at the same time, these outliers feed off of our silence and indifference.  Thankfully, the government of Israel and Jewish leaders has come out against both of these horrific incidences.  We must state proudly that our faith is centered on loving our neighbor as ourselves, not hate and destruction.  The struggle against free and unbridled hatred, Sinat Chinam, our people faced 2,000 years ago as the second Temple was destroyed is still with us today.  We, the majority of Jews, must stand up against hatred and bigotry.  This is something I will discuss this Shabbat morning, and I hope you can join us. 

My question:  what can I do to combat Sinat Chinam?

On this Shabbat Nachamu, a Shabbat of Consolation, we offer our collective prayers of comfort to all of those who have suffered this week at the hands of unbridled hatred:  to the six victims of the stabbing in Jerusalem, and to the Dawabsha family. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi David Baum

Friday, July 24, 2015

Weekly message - Post Camp Ramah and Iran Nuclear Deal

Shalom Shaarei Kodesh,

As you may know, I have just returned from two weeks at Camp Ramah Darom where I served as rabbi in residence for the first two weeks of second session.  It was, as always, an inspirational and wonderful experience.  I am grateful to both Ramah for bringing me to camp and to our congregation for giving me these two weeks to serve the larger Jewish community.  There are great benefits for synagogues to send their rabbis to Jewish overnight summer camps!  In fact, there was an article today outlining the benefits for synagogue communities, rabbis, and camps.  I also wrote an article about the benefits of overnight Jewish summer camp in Parklander Magazine. 

While at Ramah, I was able to spend time with our campers who attend during the second session of camp.  This summer, we have sixteen campers in second session, with a few full summer campers in the Gesher eidah (the oldest age group of campers).  During our first session, we had an additional three campers who came just for first session.  In all, we have nineteen campers from our congregation attending Camp Ramah Darom and one at Ramah in the Poconos.  This is a great fete for a congregation of 200 families! It shows the commitment of our families to our collective Jewish future and the values we want instilled to our children through Ramah, the camping arm of the Conservative movement.  As we know, there are a plethora of overnight camps, and a good number of Jewish overnight camps.  Each camp does wonderful work and deserves praise, but I am partial to Ramah because I have seen the life long affects of Ramah on our family and so many other adults, most of whom are not working in the Jewish professional world but bring the lessons they have learned to their lives.

Last Shabbat, Alissa and I organized an oneg for our congregation where our campers were able to have a little comfort food they can't get at Ramah and spend some bonding time together as a congregation.  On the two Friday evenings I was at camp, I went to each one of our children, no matter how old they were, and gave them the priestly blessing in place of their parents, and they were surprisingly receptive to it!  I also had the opportunity to check in with each child in between activities and at meals.  Each child was having a great time, and a meaningful summer.  I asked the kids, "what's your favorite part of camp this summer?"  One of our Shaarei Kodesh campers spending her first summer at Ramah enthusiastically raised her hand and proudly exclaimed, "Everything!  I love every part of this camp!" 

Camp is an amazing place for many reasons, but one of the benefits of camp is being 'in the bubble'.  This is how the director of Ramah Darom, Geoff Menkowitz, describes camp.  It is a bubble where it is cool to be kind, to pray and learn, to say blessings during meals, to sing our hearts out at shira and dance after Havdallah or on the kikar (field).  But it is also a bubble in the sense that there are few phones, and spotty Wifi, thereby making it hard to connect to the outside world.  This summer, I made a conscious effort to only post on Facebook and Twitter about what was going on at camp, but not read other posts and articles, and to only check email for urgent things, and let everything else go.  I wanted to have the full experience of being in the bubble of camp, to fully engage with those who were around me and to delve into issues that might be different than the outside world's pressing issues.  Admittedly, the last two weeks were significant not just to the world, including America and Israel, but to our congregation. 

Unfortunately, last week, our congregation lost Ruth Davis, one of the namesakes of our religious school.  I first met Ruth six years ago when I began my tenure as rabbi of the congregation.  I got to know her through one of the darkest points in her life:  the loss of her loving husband Lewis.  Lewis and Ruth built a beautiful family through the most difficult of circumstances.  They were survivors of the Holocaust with very few living relatives, coming to a new country, with a new language, and built a life and a large family together.  It's a story that many of us might share.  I am attaching my eulogy to Ruth as well as the speech I gave five years ago when we dedicated our religious school in her name.  Ruth beamed with pride when she heard about our school's accomplishments.  May she continue to be a beacon of light all of us. 

In the world, the big news was the Iran Nuclear Deal, the agreement between Iran and the P5 + 1 to curb Iran's nuclear program.  The greatest fear that we as Jews have is the use of an atomic bomb by Iran on Israel and the West, including America.  It's timely that we struggle with this agreement during the nine days leading to Tisha B'Av, the saddest day on our calendar when we mourn the loss of not just the Holy Temple, but other tragedies that have befallen our people.

I have formulated my own opinions regarding this issue after much study and debate.  I am deeply distrustful of Iran, and I take them at their word when they claim they want to destroy Israel and harm the United States of America.  The issue of Iran cannot be narrowly focused on just nuclear issue, but also their role as state sponsor of terror around the world, and their role in directly harming the Jews in Israel and other countries.  One of my favorite psukim from the book of Psalms, and a prayer we will be reading tonight as part of Kabbalat Shabbat is found in Psalm 29: Adonai Oz L'Amo Yiten; Adonai Yivarekh Et Amo Ba-Shalom - May God grant strength to God's people/nation; May God bless God's people with peace.  All of us want peace, we pray for it everyday, but, in my opinion, we must first have strength before we have peace. This is my opinion, but each person must come up with their own view on this issue.  

I believe that a synagogue is a Beit Knesset, a place where Jews gather to discuss diverse ideas and engage in rigorous but civil debate.  It is important that all of us become educated about this issues and act upon it as we see fit. 

I am including the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County's message to our community (click here to view), and articles and opinion pieces on both sides of the debate on my website.  I will be updating this site regularly with more articles that I find helpful in this debate.  

I have read sources that have challenged my views, but they helped me strengthen my view.  We will be speaking about this issue for weeks to come, and I will speak and write more about it in the coming weeks.  In the meantime, I am open to discussing this issue in person at shul, over the phone, or through social media.  Our tradition teaches us that study is great, because it leads us to action.  I urge you all not to take these days lightly and to take action on behalf of our country and people by contacting your elected officials.  

This Shabbat morning, I'll be discussing the following question, in a time when we have a Jewish state of Israel and a rebuilt and unified Jerusalem, should we still be fasting on the 9th of Av?

Tisha B'Av begins on Saturday evening.  On Saturday, we will gather together, sitting on the floor as we read from the Megillat Eichah, Lamentations.  It's a somber evening, but one in which we can find great meaning.  On Saturday evening, following Eicha reading, we will be reading Kinot, Jewish poetry throughout the ages.  This year, I will be bringing modern Israeli poetry and it promises to be interesting and timely. 

Although we are in a time of mourning, the nine days of Av, and the news of the past weeks have added to the muted tones of these weeks.  Nevertheless, we should not lose sight of the beautiful gifts we have, and the freedom and power that the Jewish people today hold.  Not only do we have a modern state of Israel in Jewish hands, but we have also attained great heights in the United States of America.  Adonai Oz L'Amo Yiten; Adonai Yivarekh Et Amo Ba-Shalom - May God grant strength to God's people/nation; May God bless God's people with peace.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi David Baum

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Articles and Resources about the Iran Deal

The following are links I received from Valley Beth Shalom in Los Angeles, California.
Recommended Articles on Recent Iran Deal:

Comprehensive, section-by-section, summary of the nuclear deal: Click Here

The full draft text of UN Security Council Resolution re: Iran Deal: Click Here

White House Statement on Iran Click Here

Ari Shavit, Haaretz columnist Click Here (registration required)

David Horovitz, The Times of Israel Click Here

Thomas Friedman, New York Times Click Here

Robert Satloff, Executive Director of Washington Institute Click Here

Yehuda Kurtzer, Hartman Institute N. American President, Click Here
Additional links:

Ari Shavit - The Iran deal: From thriller to horror story  

Advocacy Organizations

 American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) -

 Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) -

 American Jewish Committee (AJC) -

 Washington Institute for Near East Policy -

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Ripple In the Still Water of My Mind

The Ripple In the Still Water of My Mind
Dave Baum (at least that’s what people called me in my early 20’s)

I’ve been asking people for the last two weeks:  what’s priceless and free at the same time.  The purpose of the question was an idea I had on vacation, and it became a sermon I wrote, but I was so moved by the responses I received.  Perhaps the most profound and thought provoking response I received was memory, the power or process of reproducing or recalling what has been learned, retained, and/or experienced.  The first words, learned and retained, were found in a dictionary, but I added that last one:  experienced. 

As the Grateful Dead played their last shows, fans all over the world could listen and watch, in a movie theater, or in comfort of their own homes, and be a part of the magic of the Dead, live.  Actually, the Dead Heads, the devoted fans of the Grateful Dead, might have been the innovators of this concept.  They tried to contain memories in a bottle, so moved by the music; they started taping songs at live shows and spreading them throughout the ‘community’. 

I remember the first bootleg tape I had ever received at age of fifteen.  It was an unusual cassette tape for the time – grey and hard plastic, with no markings on it, no information as to when and where the music came from.  There was no Shazaam back then, and the internet was in its infancy, so trying to find the origins of the show was impossible.  

The tape is long gone, lost, but I hold with me, in my memories, a couple of the songs (in random order):  Bird Song; Cold Rain and Snow; Dire Wolf; Deep Ellem Blues…Ripple. 

The cassette tape is empty when it begins, it is created like any other tape, indistinguishable from the next, until it is imprinted with an experience…

As I think about that tape, I think back to the times I was driving at 16, blasting these tunes, the melodies and lyrics growing on me with each ride, with the windows down and sunroof open, the wind blowing through my hair (when I had it), touching my face, in my 1990 Gold Volvo (incidentally, my friends named it the Baum Bus we would always pack as many people in as possible). 

Ripple in still water
When there is no pebble tossed
Nor wind to blow

Today, I’m delving back into the priceless but free – my memories of this glorious music.  I enter back into the shows I attended, where the music was once played.  The ripple in the still water of my mind– the memories rush back.

There’s nothing like going to a ‘show’, especially with people you love.  My favorite shows have been with my brother.  We stood in the crowd, listening and moving to the music, guessing, pondering, with each pluck of guitar, or sound of the drum; 
waiting with anticipation to hear what is going to play next. 

I am now at Camp Ramah Darom, a place steeped in memories of my young adulthood, when the songs of the Grateful Dead were always with me.  As I travel to different places, the memories long gone flood back. 

The ripple in the still water of my mind– they are truly priceless, and they are always there, sometimes buried, sometimes present, but always there waiting for me.