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


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