Thursday, December 22, 2016

From Jacob to Tevye to Today - We Are All Fiddler's On the Roof©

From Jacob to Tevye to Today - We Are All Fiddler's On the Roof©
Rabbi David Baum, Parashat Vayishlach

A fiddler on the roof.... Sounds crazy, no? But here, in our little village of Anatevka, you might say every one of us is a fiddler on the roof trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck. It isn’t easy. You may ask, why do we stay up there if it’s so dangerous? Well, we stay because Anatevka is our home. And how do we keep our balance? That I can tell you in one word! Tradition!  (Fiddler on the Roof, act 1, scene 1)

Who in here is not instantly transformed to a different place when you hear this line? 

Fiddler on the Roof opened up on Broadway on August 26, 1964 – it’s hard to believe, but Fiddler is 52 years old.  American Jews in the 1960’s until today have flocked to this famous play, an adaptation of a story from the famous Yiddish writer, Shalom Aleichem.  But it’s not just in America that people flock to Fiddler – the show has been translated into many different languages – including Japanese.  In fact, people in Japan wondered how Americans could understand a story that was so Japanese! 

I was actually in a production of Fiddler on the Roof – I was Fyedka, the non-Jewish Russian who marries Tevye’s third daughter Chava.  When my parents found out, they said, “Hmmm…makes sense, you don’t look Jewish.” 

American Jews flocked to Fiddler for a sweet taste of the world of tradition. The irony is that Fiddler on the Roof is not about tradition. Fiddler is about the radical changes that destroyed the world of tradition. In that sense, it really is the story of our origins as modern Jews and the birth of the complicated identities we inhabit.  Fiddler is not as much a story of the shtetl as it is a story of the tearing down of the shtetl walls, and the realization that rapid change is approaching. 

Everyone of us after all is a Fiddler – balancing ourselves on a roof – trying to keep that balance, of tradition and change. 

In this week’s parashah, VaYetzei, we are confronted by a story of what happens when the walls come down, and the family is confronted with a change in tradition. 

The story of the rape of Dinah found in Genesis 33.

“Now Dinah, the daughter whom Leah had borne to Jacob, went out to visit the daughters of the land. 2 Shechem son of Hamor the Hivite, chief of the country, saw her, and took her and lay with her by force. 3 Being strongly drawn to Dinah daughter of Jacob, and in love with the maiden, he spoke to the maiden tenderly. 4 So Shechem said to his father Hamor, “Get me this girl as a wife. 5 Jacob heard that he had defiled his daughter Dinah; but since his sons were in the field with his cattle, Jacob kept silent until they came home. 6 Then Shechem’s father Hamor came out to Jacob to speak to him. 7 Meanwhile Jacob’s sons, having heard the news, came in from the field. The men were distressed and very angry, because he had committed an outrage in Israel by lying with Jacob’s daughter—a thing not to be done.  8 And Hamor spoke with them, saying, “My son Shechem longs for your daughter. Please give her to him in marriage. 9 Intermarry with us: give your daughters to us, and take our daughters for yourselves: 10 You will dwell among us, and the land will be open before you; settle, move about, and acquire holdings in it.”

Before this moment, Jacob gets a new name – Israel – someone who struggles with the divine.  Now, he faces yet another struggle.

It’s the same struggle that Tevye had with his three daughters.

Tevye has three daughters that represent three ideas.  His oldest daughter, Tzeitel, whom he arranges a marriage for with an older man, Lazar Wolf, steps into the modern age by choosing her own spouse, a religious Jewish tailor named Muttle.  As his daughter says to him, “Papa, times are changing.”  His second daughter wants to marry a revolutionary and leave the town.  Again, he struggles – but ultimately he agrees. The happiness and love of his daughter forces Tevya to change tradition.  But his third daughter, Hava, who intermarries, is a different story.  He says to her, a fish and a bird are equally lovely creatures, but where are they going to live?  And in the end, it is too much for him.

Some things I cannot, I will not allow – one little time you pull out a prop, and where does it stop, where does it stop. 

Tevye makes a decision – he rejects his daughter – so what will his ancestor Jacob do in the same situation? 

Shechem goes on to tell Jacob: 

11 Then Shechem said to her father and brothers, “Do me this favor, and I will pay whatever you tell me. 12 Ask of me a bride-price ever so high, as well as gifts, and I will pay what you tell me; only give me the maiden for a wife.”

Still, Jacob does not react – his sons do – they come up with a compromise, circumcise your men, and you can join us together.  But the reason they do this is so they are vulnerable – they attack Shechem and Hamor, and destroy them. 

Finally, Jacob speaks – he condemns his sons, but we don’t know what he really thinks because he does not speak.   

Why were Jacob’s sons so sure of what they had to do and he wasn’t? 

At this moment, Jacob was like a Fiddler on the Roof – trying to keep his balance like Tevye.  Right before this episode, we read the story of the unification of Jacob and Esau.  Before they reunite, Jacob wrestles with an angel and gets a new name – Israel – for you have striven with beings divine and human and have prevailed.  This is what Jacob does, he struggles. 

Tradition – Change – two forces that oppose each other – and yet, this is what life is all about. 

In Anita Diamont’s book, the Red Tent, she imagines Dinah not as a victim of rape, but as a Juliet like character who loves the prince of Shechem, her Romeo.  It is a story of a forbidden relationship for the time – but a relationship that their families were trying to navigate. 

This is more the world we live in – a world of freedom, and yet, the other side to that coin is responsibility – an imposed restriction. 

We are all Jacob, we are all Tevye – we are all fiddlers on the roof trying to scratch out a pleasant, simple tune without breaking his neck – trying to keep that balance. 

What would Tevye do today if Hava came to him to tell him that she was going to marry someone who wasn’t Jewish?  What would Jacob say if he could finally speak to Dinah?  This is our challenge – to keep tradition, and yet, to bend enough to allow us to live in an open and glorious world. 

We know how Tevye’s story ends.  They are kicked out of Anatevka – Tevye and his family go to New York, Lazer Wolf, whom he finally makes up with moves to Chicago – and they lovingly say – we are going to be neighbors.

But before Tevye leaves, he sees his daughter Hava one last time – the daughter whom he said Kaddish for – and he acknowledges her – and in a way, he accepts her. 

We are all Jacob, we are all Tevye – just Fiddlers on the Roof, trying to keep our balance – this has always been our challenge, but it is also our opportunity. 

Parashat Va-yetzei – The Purpose of Our Lives©

Parashat Va-yetzei – The Purpose of Our Lives©
Rabbi David Baum, Congregation Shaarei Kodesh

Have you ever asked yourself, what's the purpose of my life?

There's a famous story of Adam HaRishon, the very first human, who wondered this same thing.  It actually came out of a little know creation story.
The first animal that God created was the dog and said to the dog:  'Sit all day by the door of your house and bark at anyone who comes in or walks past. For this, I will give you a life span of twenty years.'  The dog said: 'That's a long time to be barking. How about only ten years and I'll give you back the other ten?'
So God agreed.
Then God created the monkey and said: 'Entertain people, do tricks, and make them laugh. For this, I'll give you a twenty-year life span.'  The monkey said: 'Monkey tricks for twenty years? That's a pretty long time to perform. How about I give you back ten like the Dog did?'
And God agreed.
Then God created the cow and said: 'You must go into the field with the farmer all day long and suffer under the sun, have calves and give milk to support the farmer's family. For this, I will give you a life span of sixty years.'  The cow said: 'That's kind of a tough life you want me to live for sixty years. How about twenty and I'll give back the other forty?'
And God agreed again.
Finally, God created man and said: 'Eat, sleep, play, marry and enjoy your life. For this, I'll give you twenty years.'  But man said: 'Only twenty years? Could you possibly give me my twenty, the forty the cow gave back, the ten the monkey gave back, and the ten the dog gave back; that makes eighty, okay?'
'Okay,' said God, 'You asked for it.'

So that is why for our first twenty years we eat, sleep, play and enjoy ourselves.
For the next forty years we slave in the sun to support our family.
For the next ten years we do monkey tricks to entertain the grandchildren.
And for the last ten years we sit on the front porch and bark at everyone.

The purpose of life has now been explained to you.

Perhaps the greatest question each one of us has is, what's the purpose of my life?  If you came here today to get the answer to that question for you, I'm sorry, I don't have it, but I do have another proposition – the answer to the purpose of OUR lives, the lives of people who are part of Jewish spiritual communities - synagogues – and I learned it from our father Jacob in this week's parashah.

First, I need to give you a little background.  Our parashah begins with Jacob, a young man probably as old as our bnai mitzvah, Ryan and Sydney.   Jacob had left home for the first time, fleeing from his brother Esau. He was alone on the road to relatives in another land, people he did not know and had never met. He must surely have been filled with anxiety as his life was taking a new turn.
As he travelled, he experienced nightfall. He could not continue in the dark; he was tired; it was time for sleep.  “And he took one of the stones of the place and put it under his head.” We would have thought that Jacob had brought a back pack of clothing with him, since he knew he would be away from home for an extended time. Why didn’t he rest his head on his back pack? That would have been far more comfortable than resting his head on a stone.

Why a rock?
Perhaps this is a symbolic way of saying: Jacob was truly in a hard, difficult place. He had come against a rock, not knowing how to get past this dark, frightening episode in his life.
It's not a unique story.  In fact, all of us have been in Jacob's shoes - When faced with crisis and moments of significant transition, everyone might experience the feeling that the sun has set, that darkness pervades, that one’s head is pressed against a rock. There are moments when one may feel lost and abandoned. How will he/she get past this crisis? What does the future have in store?

What is the purpose of my life?

And just as Jacob is in his darkest time...he dreams and the lights turn on.  He sees in front of him angels going up and down a ladder...and God is standing besides Jacob and he says to him:

“I am the Lord, the God of your father Abraham and the God of Isaac: the ground on which you are lying I will assign to you and to your offspring. 14 Your descendants shall be as the dust of the earth; you shall spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you and your descendants. 15 Remember, I am with you: I will protect you wherever you go and will bring you back to this land. I will not leave you until I have done what I have promised you.”

Remember...I am with you...I will not leave are not alone.  If I were in Jacob's shoes, it is these words that would help me the most.  But it's not only God who accompanies Jacob.

Jacob sees angels, going up and down a ladder.  The question Rashi asks is, why would angels be going up and down, shouldn't it be the opposite?  Shouldn't they be going down – don't angels live in heaven?  Rashi goes on to explain that there were angels who escorted Jacob in the land of Israel, and then other angels take over after them, which is why they went up.

The line between angel and man is blurred in the book of Genesis.  When Abraham is in his tent, he is approached by three men – he sees them as men, but later on they turn out to be be Mal'achim – the term in angel – but it also means messengers.  Mal'achei Elohim – Messengers of God.  In other words, perhaps we, you and me, have the potential to be the God and accompany lost souls in the darkness of their lives.

Last week, I attended the bar mitzvah ceremony of my cousin's son Matthew.  I have never seen a child love life more than Matthew.  He is always smiling, always hugging and loving others.  He had been looking forward to the day of his bar mitzvah ceremony for his whole life.  Every Shabbat for the last six months, he asked the rabbi, can I wear my talit?  The rabbi said, not yet – you have to wait until your day.

Matthew led part of the bar mitzvah service, and his family, his cousins, including me, led many of the other parts.  What is unique about Matthew is that none of us thought he would get to this moment.  He was born with a condition where parts of his brain were fused together.  He had brain surgeries before he was three years old, and the doctors said he may never speak.  He would often have seizures.  But he's a strong kid – he persevered.  Thankfully, Matthew was never in a dark place – but his family was.  You have visions for your children when they are born – and once the reality set in – those pictures became dark – they disappear.  That is when the angels entered their lives – multiple therapists, teachers from all parts of his life and special needs programs, family, and finally, a synagogue community including a bnai mitzvah tutor, a religious school, and a rabbi that accomapnied Matthew on his journey and enveloped their family with love, and offered them a place, a Makom, for Matthew to shine and share his light with others.

During our dark moments in life, when our heads are resting on hard rocks and we are alone, God calls out to us:  Remember...I am with you...I will not leave are not alone.  But it is hard to hear God sometimes, to truly believe it.

But when we see the angels who surround us, and accompany us on our journeys, we realize what Jacob realized:

מַה־נּוֹרָא הַמָּקוֹם הַזֶּה אֵין זֶה כִּי אִם־בֵּית אֱלֹ-הִים וְזֶה שַׁעַר הַשָּׁמָיִם׃

“Surely the Lord is present in this place, and I did not know it!”
Shaken, he said, “How awesome is this place! This is none other than the abode of God, and that is the gateway to heaven.”

I don't know what your purpose is – but I know what our purpose is – to be those messengers of God who remind people in their dark times –

Remember...I am with you...I will not leave are not alone.

That is one of the reasons why THIS PLACE, THIS MAKOM exists – to create a space for angels to accompany for those in the dark, for those whose head rest on rocks.  Sometimes, we are Jacob, sometimes we are the angels – but at all times, this is our purpose.  And when we reach our milestones, we realize that even if we are alone at that moment, we know that the angels in our lives helped get us to this place, this makom.

And so, if you would like to begin a new journey in your life, and you aren't on this path yet, I humbly ask that you consider finding your purpose here, with us – to join us as we journey together on a path to holiness as part of Shaarei Kodesh.  And if you are a part of Shaarei Kodesh, but haven't felt that you've really started your journey, let's begin today, together.

May it be God's will that we live up to our potential – to be angels in this world for others, and to warm ourselves from the light of the people whom we set on their paths.


Thursday, November 17, 2016

Destroying the Idols of The 2016 Election©

Destroying the Idols of The 2016 Election©
Post-Election 2016/577
Rabbi David Baum

It’s the end of the campaign, the election is over.  Roughly 50% of the country is upset, and roughly 50% of the country is exuberant.  As far as Jews, the numbers are not so even: in our state of Florida, according to a recent study, 68% of Jews voted for Hillary and 28% for Trump.  Nevertheless, as a rabbi, I have mainly stayed out of the presidential elections, and if you think I haven’t, you should hear from some of my colleagues who did talk about the election…a lot.  I’ve talked about broad issues – I’ve talked about themes, but I’ve been careful not to upset anyone or make them feel excluded.  But the election is over, and it’s time to time deal with the aftermath, and maybe it’s time to stop walking on egg shells, but it’s really not my personality.  Seriously, it’s not part of my personality, and I took the Meyers Briggs personality test which proved it.  In my personality test, it says that I stress harmony over everything.  I am much more of an Aaron, a Rodef Shalom, then I am a Moses, a fiery prophet.  Aaron is called a Rodef Shalom because he would bring people who were upset with each other together by telling one person what they wanted to hear, and then go to the other person and tell them what they wanted to hear, and eventually, they came together.

But there are things that must be said, and we don’t have a lot of time, so I can't give two sermons to two groups – I can't tell the Hillary supporters what the Trump supporters did wrong – and I can't tell the Trump supporters what the Hillary supporters did wrong– and so, rather than giving two sermons to two groups to make you all happy, I’m going to give one sermon to all of you – today, I’m going to be an equal opportunity offender.

I want to tell you about why I’m doing this, and it is because of a character we are introduced to in this week’s parashah, Avram.  

To understand Avram, we have to understand what led up to Avram.  20 generations before Avram, Adam HaRishon and Eve were created - Adam was pure – he was literally made by God – he wasn't chosen by God, he was made by God. But a generation later, it didn't work out, and so after 10 generations, God starts over.  God undoes creation, wipes out all life except for Noah, his family, and a few select animals.  Noah was an Ish Tzadik Tamim Hayah B'dorotav – Noah was a righteous man in his generations, and whole-hearted and pure – and Noah walked with God.  That's why Noah was chosen.  God promises never to wipe humanity out again, but generations later, the people mess things up by building the Tower of Babel – we know what happened to them.  So now, 10 generations later, we see this guy Avram walking around, and God starts creation over in a different way, on a smaller scale.

But the Torah does not introduce him like Noah, he just appears – but the rabbis fill in the blanks as to why Avram was chosen, and it's a message we must take to heart, because he can teach us how to walk lifnei Adonai – to walk before God – to take the first steps out of the chaos of the last two years.

By the time God says those famous words to Avram,
וַיֹּאמֶר יְי אֶל־אַבְרָם לֶךְ־לְךָ מֵאַרְצְךָ וּמִמּוֹלַדְתְּךָ וּמִבֵּית אָבִיךָ אֶל־הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אַרְאֶךָּ׃
Avram is already an older man, in his 90s.  The Torah only tells us his lineage, but what type of young adult was he?  For this answer, I want to tell you the story that is not in the Torah, but in the Midrash.

Avram, left alone with his father’s idols at the young age of 13, breaks the idols with a hammer, which he leaves in the hand of the biggest of the idols. His father Terach comes in, sees the devastation, asks who has caused it, and the young Avram replies, “Can you not see? The hammer is in the hands of the largest idol. It must have been him.” Terach replies, “But an idol is mere of wood and stone.” Avram replies, “Then, father, how can you worship them?”  (Midrash Bereishit Rabbah 38:13).  Young Avram, who was just 13 at the time, breaks the images of the time.  He challenged the sacred cows – he wasn't afraid to call out the things we know are right but are afraid to challenge.

What have our idols been?  Whether you are on the left, or the right, we must admit that racism, sexism, xenophobia, and anti-Semitism are real.  For months, we have been denying it on both sides.  On the left, you said that people who were anti-Israel really weren't anti-Semitic – when academics want to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel, it's about Israel, not about Jews.  And sure, when they show a caricature of a Jew killing Palestinian children, it's terrible, but it's not anti-Semitic.  And when people accuse Israel of genocide, it's meant to be a metaphor, not taken literally!

On the right, you said that the people flying swastikas were just on the fringe.  When latinos are bullied, when gays and lesbians are attacked – it's sad, but there aren't so many incidences – the media is probably blowing things out of proportion, yeah, that's it – everything's going to be fine once the election is over, they'll go back into the holes they came out from.

Let me inform you all something, something you may not want to hear – those people who you voted with on both sides, they are still here, and they've been here for years, and they'll continue to be here.
The election is over, there are no more votes to be made – you have no one else to prove yourself to – it's time for us to destroy the idols of political ideologies.

It's time we recommit ourselves, both sides, to our Jewish heroes, like Elie Wiesel who passed this year.  Elie Wiesel who famously said the following words when he accepted the Nobel Peace Prize:

“...I swore never to be silent whenever and wherever human beings endure suffering and humiliation. We must always take sides. Neutrality helps the oppressor, never the victim. Silence encourages the tormentor, never the tormented. Sometimes we must interfere. When human lives are endangered, when human dignity is in jeopardy, national borders and sensitivities become irrelevant. Wherever men or women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must – at that moment – become the center of the universe.”

And so we must re-commit ourselves to the cause of fighting racism, bigotry, and yes, the anti-Semitism that is very much alive and well in this country on both sides.

It's time to stop making excuses, to the cling to our idols of ideology and political party, and time to start standing up for humanity.  And we must hold our leaders accountable – we must demand that they condemn racism and xenophobia everywhere.

So what else can you do?  We say a prayer for the country every week, and we say it so much that it is often time said by rote – without kavanah.  Here is how we can put these prayers into action:

1. Embrace those who are scared and do not belittle the fear that they have.  People of color, immigrants, Muslims, people with disabilities, and everyone else who feels threatened because of the rhetoric of the election.  Like Sarah and Abraham welcomed guests into their home, welcome them into your home.  They are more than guests, they are our fellow citizens.  Let them become the center of your universe.

2. We must recommit to fighting bigotry and hatred wherever you find it – in your children's schools, when a latino child is told he's being deported, stand up for them; don't give up your fight for justice – get active, become an active citizen – get involved in what's going on here in our city, our county.  Do more acts of loving-kindness because it is what God wants from us.

3. Pray for our country and pray for our president elect, Donald Trump – there's a famous story in the Midrash of a group of people were traveling in a boat. One of them took a drill and began to drill a hole beneath himself.  His companions said to him: "Why are you doing this?" Replied the man: "What concern is it of yours? Am I not drilling under my own place?"Said they to him: "But you will flood the boat for us all!" (Midrash Rabbah, Vayikra 4:6).  I think that midrash says it all – we are all in the same boat – let us pray for the success of our institutions, our leaders, and our people.

At one point in the last two years, one or both of the people who ran from a major party for president insulted, and now, maybe your rabbi did, and for that, I'm sorry – but let me tell you something that might even be more insulting – I truly am hopeful for the future.  We've reached some really low points – and maybe there is no place else to go but up.  As we look over our country's history, no one can deny that we have made progress – Dr. Martin Luther King Jr was right when he famously said “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
But I'm hopeful for another reason as well.  Avram began a journey thousands of years ago – a journey that still continues.  Adam and Noah, they didn't make it – but Avram did.  God promised that Avram his name would be great, that his offspring would be as numerous as the stars.  The greatness of Avram, and the moral revolution that he started went from the Ancient Near East, to here, America.  And so it is up to us, the Children of Abraham, to continue his journey here and into the future.

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

A Service of Healing and Unity (post U.S. Elections 2016) - Rabbi David Baum

Unity and Healing Service
November 9, 2016 - Congregation Shaarei Kodesh
Part 1:

Listen and Hear

We are WITNESSES (עד) for each other...

Write down a word or sentence that you want someone to HEAR

Write down a word or sentence that you feel you need to LISTEN

Put them in your pockets...

Chant Together:  Shema

Part 2: 


Let America Be America Again
Langston Hughes, 1902 - 1967

Let America be America again.
Let it be the dream it used to be.
Let it be the pioneer on the plain
Seeking a home where he himself is free.
(America never was America to me.)
Let America be the dream the dreamers dreamed—
Let it be that great strong land of love
Where never kings connive nor tyrants scheme
That any man be crushed by one above.
(It never was America to me.)
O, let my land be a land where Liberty
Is crowned with no false patriotic wreath,
But opportunity is real, and life is free,
Equality is in the air we breathe.
(There’s never been equality for me,
Nor freedom in this “homeland of the free.”)
Say, who are you that mumbles in the dark?
And who are you that draws your veil across the stars?
I am the poor white, fooled and pushed apart,
I am the Negro bearing slavery’s scars.
I am the red man driven from the land,
I am the immigrant clutching the hope I seek—
And finding only the same old stupid plan
Of dog eat dog, of mighty crush the weak.
I am the young man, full of strength and hope,
Tangled in that ancient endless chain
Of profit, power, gain, of grab the land!
Of grab the gold! Of grab the ways of satisfying need!
Of work the men! Of take the pay!
Of owning everything for one’s own greed!
I am the farmer, bondsman to the soil.
I am the worker sold to the machine.
I am the Negro, servant to you all.
I am the people, humble, hungry, mean—
Hungry yet today despite the dream.
Beaten yet today—O, Pioneers!
I am the man who never got ahead,
The poorest worker bartered through the years.
Yet I’m the one who dreamt our basic dream
In the Old World while still a serf of kings,
Who dreamt a dream so strong, so brave, so true,
That even yet its mighty daring sings
In every brick and stone, in every furrow turned
That’s made America the land it has become.
O, I’m the man who sailed those early seas
In search of what I meant to be my home—
For I’m the one who left dark Ireland’s shore,
And Poland’s plain, and England’s grassy lea,
And torn from Black Africa’s strand I came
To build a “homeland of the free.”
The free?
Who said the free? Not me?
Surely not me? The millions on relief today?
The millions shot down when we strike?
The millions who have nothing for our pay?
For all the dreams we’ve dreamed
And all the songs we’ve sung
And all the hopes we’ve held
And all the flags we’ve hung,
The millions who have nothing for our pay—
Except the dream that’s almost dead today.
O, let America be America again—
The land that never has been yet—
And yet must be—the land where every man is free.
The land that’s mine—the poor man’s, Indian’s, Negro’s, ME—
Who made America,
Whose sweat and blood, whose faith and pain,
Whose hand at the foundry, whose plow in the rain,
Must bring back our mighty dream again.
Sure, call me any ugly name you choose—
The steel of freedom does not stain.
From those who live like leeches on the people’s lives,
We must take back our land again,
O, yes,
I say it plain,
America never was America to me,
And yet I swear this oath—
America will be!
Out of the rack and ruin of our gangster death,
The rape and rot of graft, and stealth, and lies,
We, the people, must redeem
The land, the mines, the plants, the rivers.
The mountains and the endless plain—
All, all the stretch of these great green states—
And make America again!

Part 3 
Sing - hinei mah tov u’manaim, Shevet Achim Gam Yachad

Post by Senator Corey Booker
"We tell our truth not in what happens to us but in how we react – how we face a setback; how we rise when knocked down; how we work through fatigue and frustration; how we bring grit to our grief and heart to our hurt...
Let us be determined to reach out to our fellow countrywomen and men. Let us encourage others. Let us be gracious.
Let us seek to build bridges where they have been burned.
Let us seek to restore trust where it has been eroded.
Let us stand our ground but still work to find common ground.
Let us be humble and do the difficult work of finding ways to collaborate and cooperate with those whose political affiliations may differ from ours. But let us never, ever, surrender, forfeit, or retreat from our core values, our fundamental commitments to justice over prejudice; economic inclusion over poverty and unmerited privilege; and, always, love over hate.
Let us speak truth to power; fiercely defend those who are bullied, belittled, demeaned or degraded; and tenaciously fight for all people and the ideals we cherish. It is a new day!"

Secretary Hillary Clinton’s Concession Speech, 11/9/2016

I feel pride and gratitude for this wonderful campaign that we built together, this vast, diverse, creative, unruly, energized campaign. You represent the best of America and being your candidate has been one of the greatest honors of my life.
I know how disappointed you feel because I feel it too, and so do tens of millions of Americans who invested their hopes and dreams in this effort. This is painful and it will be for a long time, but I want you to remember this. Our campaign was never about one person or even one election, it was about the country we love and about building an America that’s hopeful, inclusive and big-hearted.
We have seen that our nation is more deeply divided than we thought. But I still believe in America and I always will. And if you do, then we must accept this result and then look to the future. Donald Trump is going to be our president. We owe him an open mind and the chance to lead.
Our constitutional democracy enshrines the peaceful transfer of power and we don’t just respect that, we cherish it. It also enshrines other things; the rule of law, the principle that we are all equal in rights and dignity, freedom of worship and expression. We respect and cherish these values too and we must defend them.
Now — and let me add, our constitutional democracy demands our participation, not just every four years but all the time. So let’s do all we can to keep advancing the causes and values we all hold dear; making our economy work for everyone not just those at the top, protecting our country and protecting our planet and breaking down all the barriers that hold any American back from achieving their dreams….
And — and to all the little girls who are watching this, never doubt that you are valuable and powerful and deserving of every chance and opportunity in the world to pursue and achieve your own dreams.

Finally, I am so grateful for our country and for all it has given to me. I count my blessings every single day that I am an American. And I still believe as deeply as I ever have that if we stand together and work together with respect for our differences, strength in our convictions and love for this nation, our best days are still ahead of us…
May God bless you and may God bless the United States of America.”

Victory Speech - President Elect Donald Trump 11/9/2016

I’ve just received a call from Secretary Clinton.  She congratulated us — it’s about us — on our victory, and I congratulated her and her family on a very, very hard-fought campaign. I mean, she — she fought very hard. Hillary has worked very long and very hard over a long period of time, and we owe her a major debt of gratitude for her service to our country.  I mean that very sincerely. Now it’s time for America to bind the wounds of division; have to get together. To all Republicans and Democrats and independents across this nation, I say it is time for us to come together as one united people. It’s time. I pledge to every citizen of our land that I will be president for all Americans, and this is so important to me. For those who have chosen not to support me in the past, of which there were a few people. . .
I’m reaching out to you for your guidance and your help so that we can work together and unify our great country.
Recite Together:  Prayer for Our Country, with real intention
Our God and God of our ancestors: We ask Your blessings for our country- for its government, for its leaders and advisors, and for all who exercise just and rightful authority. Teach them insights from Your Torah, that they may administer all affairs of state fairly, that peace and security, happiness and prosperity, justice and freedom may forever abide in our midst. Creator of all flesh, bless all the inhabitants of our country with Your spirit. May citizens of all races and creeds forge a common bond in true harmony, to banish hatred and bigotry, and to safeguard the ideals and free institutions that are the pride and glory of our country. May this land, under Your providence, be an influence for good throughout the world, uniting all people in peace and freedom- helping them to fulfill the vision of Your prophet: “Nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more.” And let us say, Amen.

Listen - Olam Chesed Yibaneh 

Sing - Oseh shalom

Friday, November 4, 2016

The Building Deluge of Climate Change© Parashat Noah

The Building Deluge of Climate Change©
Parashat Noah

I don’t know why, but we are obsessed with the idea of the world ending.  In the movies, they end in various ways – in some, by alien invasion, in some, it’s disease, worldwide pandemic, in some – earthquakes, super tornados, and of course, floods, in some asteroids have crashed to earth, and of course, who doesn’t love a Zombie apocalypse. 

Our parashah this week deals with the worst-case scenario the – the end of the world, and most human life.  The flood story is perhaps one of the most well-known and popular narratives in the entire Torah, the scenario that started them all – the great flood.

We have become obsessed with catastrophe.  Who didn’t worry about the Ebola virus in the United States two years ago, even though, as a news article stated, More Americans have been married to Kim Kardashian than have died of Ebola.  Don’t get me wrong, Ebola is a serious illness that has killed thousands in Africa, but is it the end of the world as we know it? 

We have visions of how we think the world is going to end, perhaps reinforced by this story, as a quick end whether through nuclear war or a worldwide pandemic; but I think we are overlooking one of the largest threats to our lives on earth.  I’ll get to that in a moment, but first, I want to talk a little bit about our parashah and how there is more than meets the eye regarding how fast things ended. 

There is a famous midrash that talks about how God destroyed the world.  Eli was quite upset with God – why would God destroy the world without giving the people time or opportunity to repent?  The truth is, the text is unclear as to how long it took for Noah to build the ark even though it seems to be a short amount of time, and the midrash picks up on this and explains that God did give the people time to repent.  As they saw Noah building the ark, they laughed at him and mocked him.  Rashi, the famous Medieval commentator, comments on the line, “And the rain was upon the earth” saying, “When God caused the rain to descend, God did so with mercy, so that in the event of their repenting, the rain would be one of blessing.  When they did not repent, it turned into a deluge.” 

The Midrash makes the end a lot more realistic than all of our apocalyptic movies. 

There is an old parable of the frog in the pot. If you throw a frog in a boiling pot of water, it will jump out and be saved, but if you put it in a cold pot, and slowly turn up the heat, it will get a boiling level, and by the time it gets to that point, the frog cannot leap out…and the frog dies. 

The end of life on earth, God forbid, can happen, but I don’t think it will be because of an asteroid, a flood, or even Zombies.  I think we are seeing glimpses of it now – in the form of Climate Change, which 97% of the world scientific community believes is brought upon by humans.  We are seeing storms stronger than we’ve ever seen, and lasting longer.  Islands are becoming uninhabitable, the earth is getting hotter, water is drying up.  We are not immune here in South Florida – Miami is in danger of being under water in by the end of the century if not sooner.  

I am scared, not really for me, but for my children who will inherit a much more volatile earth than I did. 

Noah is criticized greatly for being silent when God says that God will destroy the earth – are we guilty of the same sin?  Thankfully, not all of us have been silent

Something happened early this year that gave me a glimmer of hope.  On September 21, 2014, 400,000 people flooded the streets of New York City for the People's Climate March, including my rabbinical school, the Jewish Theological Seminary.  They held signs that said "We are all Noah now" and "People of faith call for climate action."  Jews marched with shofars, the rams' horn associated with the High Holidays and their themes of repentance and renewal.  But more than that, the shofar was sounded over and over again as a wake-up call. 

We are all Noah, living in Noah like times. Like Noah, who voices no dissent when God shares the plan to destroy the world, our global civilization failed to act when we first heard the warnings about global warming.  It’s not a new threat – we’ve known about it for years, but we have focused on everything else. 

There are times when I feel utterly powerless when it comes to the issue of climate change – how can we tackle such a huge problem? 

Here is where our tradition can help us:

Our Torah portion describes Noah in the following way:  Genesis 6:9 reads, "Noah was a righteous man; he was blameless in his generations."

In the mystical Jewish tradition, a tzaddik, a righteous person, has the power to protest a negative divine decree. The Kedushat Levi, another 18th-century Hasidic master, looks closely at Noah being called a tzaddik: "Now even though Noah was a great and blameless tzaddik, he was very small in his own eyes and did not have faith that he was a powerful tzaddik with the ability to annul the decree of the flood."

We must begin the steps needed for this long journey to stem the tide of climate change.  We cannot look at ourselves as small, but have the faith that we can bring about real change. 

The Noam Elimelech, an 18th-century Hasidic master, asks why Genesis 6:9 reads, "Noah was a righteous man; he was blameless in his generations." Why the plural "generations"? Each generation, he says, is "connected at its root to a specific mitzvah[divine directive] which it needs to establish more than the others.” 

Our mitzvah must be the mitzvah that was given to the first man and woman, when they were given a command by God, to Ovdah and Shomrah, to work for and guard the land.  

The Midrash expands upon this line, saying that God showed Adam around the Garden of Eden and said, "Look at my works! See how beautiful they are--how excellent! For your sake I created them all. See to it that you do not spoil and destroy My world; for if you do, there will be no one else to repair it."

This idea is reinforced in our parashah - After the flood, Noah is called ish ha'adamah, a man of the soil. But the Zohar, Jewish mysticism's core text, interprets ish as husband. In this reading, Noah becomes the husband of the earth, the lover and caretaker of the created world, just like Adam and Eve were. 

We must also look at the earth as our partners, our Ezer K’Negdo, our fitting helpers.  Let’s start by speaking up for our partner! 

How many of us ask our politicians what they think of social security, are they pro-life or pro-choice, what are their stances on guns, and of course Israel – we have to care about all of these things, but how many of us ask our elected officials to act on climate change? 

There’s a new movie that’s about to come out called Interstellar that I can’t wait to see.  The premise is that in the future, we are going to send a space ship to find a new planet because we have ruined this one beyond repair – I would say, a less funny version of Wall-E.  It can’t wait to see the special effects, but I would rather leave it as fiction, a story, rather than our future. 

Our future, the future of the world, is actually in our hands, just as God promised when God showed Noah the rainbow.   

Let us remember the words of the midrash everyday, as if God is actually talking to us saying - "Look at my works! See how beautiful they are--how excellent! For your sake I created them all. See to it that you do not spoil and destroy My world; for if you do, there will be no one else to repair it."

Friday, October 28, 2016

Eulogy for Irv Pomeranz

I rarely post eulogies online, but then again, Irv was a one of a kind guy.  

Blessed is the man who reveres Adonai, who delights in God’s commandments. His descendants will be honored in the land, a generation of the upright, they will be blessed. Prosperity fills his household, his righteousness is enduring. Even in the darkness, light shines for the upright, for the one who is gracious, compassionate, and just. All goes well with the man who is generous, whose dealings are marked by integrity. He shall never be shaken, his kindness will always be remembered. Evil tidings do not frighten him; his mind is firm, trusting in Adonai. His heart is steady, he will notbe fearful, for his enemies are destined to be overcome. He has given freely to the poor; his goodness is an inspiration to others; his life is exalted in honor. – Psalms 112:1-12

Eulogy for Irv Pomeranz by Rabbi David Baum
Yisrael Hanokh ben Harav Tz'vi Aryeh u-Miryam

I walked into my home just a half hour after seeing Irv for the last time alive, holding his hand as his soul returned to Hashem.  She looked at me and said, “sometimes, your job stinks.”  It’s hard – we lost a true gadol this week, Irv, Israel Hanoch. 

Our rabbis were cognizant of when someone died – if they die on erev Shabbat, it is a good sign.  It shows that their soul will be at rest in the world to come. 

But Irv left this world on Isru Chag Simchat Torah, the day after Simchat Torah; and I think, if I were one of the rabbis writing midrash, I would say that there it might be even a greater honor to leave this world after Simchat Torah was completed.  A day when we dance and rejoice with the Torah, when we complete the Torah and then start it again immediately. 

As you all know, Irv loved Torah – he loved learning, but more than learning, he loved teaching. 

It was hard to say goodbye to Irv so suddenly, and yes, as Alissa said, it stinks – but, to have known Irv, even for a short time, was one of the greatest gifts I could have received.  Today, I want to tell you about three lessons that he taught me in the three short years that I knew him, and how he made a difference in the lives of so many. 

1.    Raise up many students and bring them into your home.

2.    Give more than you receive – you’ll be happier and live longer.

3.    There’s always time to make a difference and live life. 

When I met Irv about three and a half years ago at Shaarei Kodesh, a refugee from another congregation, I knew there was something special about him.  People followed him – he had a fire within him that attracted others.  I honestly do not recall our first conversation, but I know that it might have been our first or second congregation where he introduced himself to my sons, and there was something special about it.  He invited us to his home at the beach, literally whenever we wanted – and taking him up on his offer was one of the best things I had ever done – not just for the great food and company, but because my kids got to know a great man.

Later, I found out why he took to my kids – I think he saw himself in them.  He was the son of a Rabbi, his father, Harry Pomeranz, who was the rabbi of Kingsway Jewish Center in Brooklyn.  He was just 13 when he lost his father, and he always blamed ‘the life’ on his loss.  He had a rough childhood – the youngest of six children, he bounced around a lot after his father passed.  He always looked out for my children, and for me, to make sure that they had a better life as Preacher’s Kids than he did.  Irv did not want to walk in his father’s footsteps exactly, but he did want to teach.  After college, Irv went to the Jewish Theological Seminary to become a Hebrew teacher.  He taught Hebrew and math, but you know, Irv was a friendly and talkative guy, and a friend begged him to leave teaching to join him in selling text books for schools.  He agreed because he really did want to see more of the world– and it let to a lot of traveling and meeting a lot more people, and he made more money, but he never lost his love for teaching. 

The concept of raising up many students and bringing them into your home is actually written about in the Talmud.  Irv didn’t tell me much about selling books – but he did tell me about his students from all parts of his life.  He never stopped teaching – once a teacher, always a teacher.  He told me that his former students from all years of his life would still contact him. 

I think he saw something in everyone that even people themselves don’t see – potential.  He turned people into students with just one conversation.  Just a couple of weeks ago, I brought Harrison to visit Irv and Elle, and I invited one of his friends with his mother.  We were supposed to park by his home and walk to Gumbo Limbo, but I got caught in traffic.  I told the woman to wait in the Chicki Bar, and to look out for Irv.  She said, “Will I know who he is?”  I told her, “Don’t worry, he’ll find you.”  When I got there, they were deep into conversation – it took him about 5 minutes to convince her, “Rabbi, we’ve got a new student for our beginner’s Hebrew class!”  And this happened literally all the time.  This woman never received a Jewish education – did not know an alef from a bet, and it was this moment that she decided to finally learn.  And all it took was 5 minutes alone with Irv and Elle.  Not only did he raise students, but after he got sick and could not drive at night to Shaarei Kodesh, his students came to him.  He filled up his home with Torah and students. 

The first teaching in the famous book, the Ethics of Our Fathers, raise up many disciples – He’emidu Talmidim Harbei –
Irv realized that when he created students, he saw that he could raise them.  How many people in this room were one of Irv’s students?  And how many people did something you never thought you could do because of Irv?  That’s what it means to be raised up. 
The second lesson I learned from Irv:

1.    Give more than you receive – you’ll be happier and live longer.

Every successive year since Irv started teaching his beginner’s Hebrew class, he asked me for a raise in pay.  The first year, it was double, next, triple, this year, he had the audacity to ask for quadruple the pay.  It’s a good thing that anything multiplied by 0 always equals 0.  Irv never wanted a dime for teaching, just an opportunity to teach others – to give to others.  For those who do not know, Irv had many health problems during these last years.  He had Leukimia which was held at bay through medication.  He would always tell me, it’s no big deal, really, but it was.  And rather than take, he constantly gave to others.  Whether it was through teaching, schmoozing, joking, or just giving a hug to a child he barely knew as Uncle Irv, he constantly gave. 

Elle thanked me yesterday for what Shaarei Kodesh did for him.  He was sicker than we all thought – but being with us, seeing the kids running around and giving to his students, gave him purpose, a spiritually richer life, and a longer life.  You cannot put a price on more time in this world – and so, he taught me that giving to others is actually a way to get more out of life. 

And finally:

1.    There’s always time to make a difference and live life. 

I told you, Irv was a refugee from another synagogue.  It would have been so easy not to go to another shul and start over.  He has a beautiful apartment, a beautiful beach and Chiki bar.  And yet, he drove 20 minutes west to spend his time in a store front shul across from a gas station.  But he almost never missed a Shabbat – almost never missed a weekday class.  He built a new home in a modest little place out West.  In three and a half years, he made a tremendous impact on many people.  It taught me, there’s always time, it’s never too late to make a difference; even after you’re heart is broken, you can start over and be better.  Irv was a betting man – he loved to wager on sports games – he always thought he could win – and this is how he lived his life. 

Irv left us the day after Simchat Torah.  It was almost as if he waited until after we celebrated the Torah, the teachings that gave him so much joy and purpose. 

Irv lived just days into the New Year, and he came into our congregations life just in the last three years, and yet, he made such a great impact.  There were fellow community members who had known him for a year, and some for weeks, and they were equally heart broken. 

There is a saying, that there will never be another prophet like Moses, and yet, we have had great teachers in our people named Moses – like Moses ben Maimon, Maimonides, and Moses Isserles, the Rema – and on our their graves it states, from Moses to Moses, there will never be another prophet like Moses.  Let me know, we aren’t saying goodbye to a prophet named Moses, but we are saying goodbye to a teacher, Morenu, our teacher, named Israel.  He called people by the names that they needed - You see, Irv always called his students by their Hebrew names – for many of his students who were still finding their Jewish voice, it was a revelation; for me it was easy, David is Hebrew, but he would call me Duvedelle, a Yiddish term.  I think he did this because he genuinely cared for me – maybe he saw his father in me – and he saw himself in his sons.  For whatever reason, I will always remember his kindness, his love, and most of all, his humor. 

Irv’s Hebrew name was Israel Hanoch – Israel – our father whom we are named after who wrestled with angels and had a vision of the world as it should be.  Hanoch, who is mentioned in this week’s parashah, was a man who the Torah tells us walked with God.  The Midrash tells us that Chanoch was the only other heavenly scribe along with Moses.  And so, Israel Hanoch lived out his name – a man who was on par with angels, who always looked at the good in others – the worlds that people could create, a man who walked with God and devoted his life to God’s word, the Torah.  

We are called Bnai Israel, the children of Israel, and I’m tempted to say, from Israel to Israel, there will be no other teacher like Israel.  But my prayer is that someone else will one day come along and be a tenth of the mensch that Irv was in this world.

Yehi Zichroh Baruch