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  • 9 Jul 2019 2:18 PM | Muriel Dance (Administrator)

    Once or Twice in a lifetime, a man or woman may choose a radical leaving, having heard Lech l’cha — Go forth. God disturbs us toward our destiny by hard events and by freedom’s now urgent voice which explode and confirm who we are. We don’t like leaving, but God loves becoming.   These words were written by Norman Hirsh, and are in the siddur, Mishkan Tefilah.

    Leaving, becoming. Is it destiny? Perhaps. Transition and change, most definitely.

    There is a saying, the more things change, the more they stay the same. I don’t agree with that. I think transition and change are always happening, sometimes in large ways, and sometimes small, though to see it, we may need to slow down and look, as one might suddenly see a small flower growing out of the pavement. In our parashah this week, Aaron is leaving, it is his time to die. His son Eleazar is becoming the High Priest, as he takes on the mantle of his father’s work. This moment of transition and significant change is initiated by the instruction:  

        וְהַפְשֵׁ֤ט אֶֽת־אַהֲרֹן֙ אֶת־בְּגָדָ֔יו וְהִלְבַּשְׁתָּ֖ם אֶת־אֶלְעָזָ֣ר בְּנ֑וֹ  (Num. 20:26)

    “Strip Aaron of his garments and put them on his son Eleazar. “

    Why mention the garments? The mention of the garments in the Torah may seem extraneous, but of course is not – this is necessary, Rashi says, to teach us that there is a relationship between these garments and Aaron’s death. Further, the Talmud, in Tractate Zevachim, describes a correlation, that each individual garment of the High Priest atones for a specific sin. I prefer Ramban’s explanation though, as in his commentary, he teaches a midrash in which the Rabbis ask, How could Moses strip Aaron of his garments in their proper order? Are not the upper ones always on top, and the lower ones always underneath? – We too might ask, how does this work – make a pile of clothing, and then sort them out to dress Eleazar in the correct order of layering the garments?  Ramban explains that God bestowed upon Aaron a great honor at the time of his death - that celestial garments first clothed themselves underneath the other garments, and then Moses stripped Aaron of the priestly garments in their proper order, and then put them on Eleazar in the proper order. What’s the concern? The concern is that Aaron should not appear naked, that this process should not dishonor him.

    Aaron represents the past that we must take care to honor. Eleazar represents the future that we must take care to nurture and protect. In between is the present in which transition and change occur.

    This too, is the path of one who comes to us, choosing to become Jewish, sitting before us. Their outer garment may be what we see, the actions of “doing Jewish” – the holiday observances – Passover, Shavuot, High Holy Days, Sukkot, Shabbat, the learning of Hebrew words, and prayers, perhaps wearing a kippah, or a star of David…but as a candidate sits before us, we know too, that underneath are the hidden layers, a leaving behind…perhaps of Christmas Carols and chocolate bunnies…and connection with it too, perhaps not so much about religion, but rather about family and tradition. The hidden layers… The questions so far unarticulated, the fear of not knowing enough, the hope of truly fitting in, of being accepted, the embarrassment of not knowing all the words, or what they mean, yet… The deep longing of a Jewish soul, born to parents not Jewish, of longing to be known, of words yet to be spoken. Even one who has taken the long journey, with years of study, years of immersion in Jewish life, and a longing for that final step, implies too, a certain leaving, feeling a little wobbly, a little uncertain. Wondering, how to speak to family, to friends, of their identity – yes, one longed for, but one that has yet to fully integrate past with future.

    A new Jew does put on a new garment, a new identity, but with the hidden garments too… of hope, uncertainty, fear, loss, …joy. Each, a gift, from the divine, like celestial garments, to be discovered, integrated, cherished, and worn with dignity.

    Those who have heard Lech L’cha, and come before us are navigating their way, and it is for us to honor their past, for without that past, they would not have arrived at our door, nor sit before us. And, it is for us, of course, to nurture and be there for them, as the steps they take in the present are precious, as these steps create a new future.

    The following blessing is from the Shabbat morning service in Mishkan Tefilah, and was written by Rabbi Richard Levy, z’’l:

    You are Praised, who rolls out the rough, raw clay of the universe into delicate vessels of light; and from nothing at all we could perceive in a world that has turned old, a shimmering new Creation right before our eyes made this moment just for us. How much of life reveals Your presence? How much Torah unfolds from each new flower, from each new wave that breaks upon the sea! You are Praised, who forms from the clay that cloaks our lives, the delicate vessels which contain our light.  Baruch atah, Adonai, yotzeir ham’orot.

    Rabbi Lisa Bock

  • 2 Jun 2019 6:38 PM | Muriel Dance (Administrator)

    Inspired by the Yom Iyun on May 7th 2019, a poem by Suzanne Gallant:

    I have a theory,
    You don’t have to agree.
    I’m not a Rabbi
    Or even a teacher of Judaica.
    I’m a simple student
    Who searches through Torah
    For truths to live by.
    So, here’s my theory.
    The first real converts to Judaism
    Were the recently escaped
    Hebrew slaves.
    They were clans, men
    Were circumcised as their
    Religious identification.
    There was only one other law.
    “Be fruitful and multiply”
    The rules were given at Sinai
    And we have continued through the millennia.
    We were a family.
    Religion came down the mountain,
    Told to Moses who, re-told them.
    Okay, given that concept
    Let’s examine Exodus
    Through that lens.
    Converts, today,  must partake
    Of the Mikveh experience.
    Might we view the crossing of the sea,
    Be likened to a mikveh?
    Even though the Hebrews
    Received the laws, after .
    Even though… okay,
    They were our ancestors
    Even though, they only chose
    To run with the group.
    They didn’t know they were Jews.
    Being Jewish came later.
    Accepting God’s laws
    Came first.  Doing them ensued.
    Making them fit or making
    One’s self fit the laws,
    That came later.
    First we had to learn.
    Something like today,
    Each of us must search.
    Each of us should study.
    Each of us must choose.
    Judaism isn’t easy.
    It is a struggle , finding one’s place
    Just like every convert. 

  • 11 Mar 2019 12:05 PM | Muriel Dance (Administrator)

    Religious life in America is going through a most significant transition. As many Americans are seeking new faith communities, switching religious traditions, and creating new communities of spiritual and religious engagement, Jewish leaders and their institutions need to be cognizant of these major transitions, open to working with religious seekers and young Jews who are exploring with their future mates and partners ways to move forward on their spiritual journeys. Today, we find many younger persons defining themselves as “religious nones”. As they move away from formal religious practices or question various traditional ideas about faith, our leaders must remain open to their concerns, questions and criticisms.

    One of the goals associated with 21st century American religion ought to be about breaking down silos of denominationalism in favor of building cross-institutional partnerships and programs. The Jewish community ought to model such collaborative behaviors as a way of assisting new Jews in finding their place and voice within Jewish life. Our communal and religious institutions must be open to welcoming and embracing those new participants who are seeking to become a part of our community. How we receive and engage individuals and couples will be a critical test of our own resiliency and openness to the stranger. We need to acknowledge in this current environment that the different models of Jewish expression and religious practice afford seekers multiple options. The availability of religious choice and the presence of a culture of experimentation are abiding features of the current Jewish scene.

    How we prepare and introduce Jews by choice to the Jewish communal roadmap will be another critical first step in helping these new Jews find their way within our community. Our institutional and cultural diversity ought to be seen as a key strength, as it demonstrates the multi-layered character of American Jewish life.

    How we manage the opportunities and appropriate roles for those individuals who at this time do not elect to become formally a part of our community, yet who are partnered or married to Jewish spouses, raises some important and challenging issues. Our fundamental goal ought to be focused on welcoming and including wherever possible these individuals within the life cycle experiences of their spouses, children and extended family.  Giving clarity and attention to the functions and roles that these folks can play represents another opportunity to demonstrate our community’s flexibility and openness.

    Professor Steven Windmueller, summary of talk  on delivered at Trustee Giving Circle Lunch, 2/26/2019

  • 2 Jan 2019 6:52 PM | Robin Podolsky

    At the end of the secular year, Christmakah (or Hanumas) celebrations have become, if not the new norm, at least common in the U.S.  While it is undoubtedly pleasant to celebrate festive occasions on an interfaith basis of good will, intermarriages – where neither of the parties convert, and accounting for more than half of American Jewish marriages now -- have become the elephant in the room in rabbinic circles. The underlying fear, of course, is Jewish assimilation. Will the children and grandchildren of intermarriage be Jewish? Who will fill the pews at our Temples and synagogues? How do you pass on a hybrid, “interfaith” religion? Or no religion at all, let them decide for themselves when they are older?

    Are American rabbis permitted to marry couples where conversion to Judaism has not – or not yet – taken place? For many Reform rabbis, and for trans-denominational rabbis as well, the decision is an individual one. Some rabbis ask for certain conditions: that the non-Jewish spouse must commit to bringing up any children of the marriage in a Jewish home where Jewish values and learning are valued. In other words, “Give us your children. Teach them, at least, to be Jewish.”

    Many rabbis optimistically believe that, with repeated contact with Shabbat candlelighting, with the joyous festivals, the Jewish way of life with its value of community and tikkun olam, and with a growing understanding of the whys and hows of the Jewish moral code, non-Jewish partners will eventually choose to convert. By that time, they will be well immersed and, today, well accepted in the Jewish community.

    For conservative rabbis, however, the choices available are very different. Until recently, they have not been permitted to officiate, let alone attend, intermarriages. However, now, in a move facing the reality of so many modern Jewish marriages, the Conservative movement has decided to allow their affiliated rabbis to attend intermarriage ceremonies. Not to officiate, mind you – perhaps that decision will follow – but for now, they will at least be able to attend the simcha.

    In a recent article in the Forward (“Conservative Movement Gives Rabbi Green Light to Attend Intermarriages,” 0ct. 22, 2018), writer Ari Feldman commented: “It is a long-awaited, welcoming gesture. Until now, conservative rabbis could not even hover in the back row if they wished to remain in the conservative movement.”

    So maybe the elephant is already out of the room. Perhaps now that we can talk about it together, we can find some useful solutions. In the meantime, Happy 2019!

    ©Corinne Copnick, Los Angeles, 2018. All rights reserved.

  • 9 Nov 2018 2:16 PM | Robin Podolsky

    A decade ago (2008), Rabbi Jeremy Kalmanofsky offered his own thoughtful and enduring article, written from a conservative point of view, on the subject of conversion — which he considered a preferable and potentially transformative alternative to intermarriage. “At a given moment,” he wrote, “a non-Jew is transformed from ‘outsider’ to ‘one of us.’ What changed that person?” What is the transformative moment?


    Kalmanofsky suggested that the prospective convert may have passed through one or more “doors” [inserted numbers mine}:

    1. “What doorway did s/he pass through, so that the s/he now counts in the minyan?

    2. Was it a religious doorway?

    3. An ethnic one?

    4. An intellectual affirmation.

    5. A faith act?

    6. A mark on the body?

    7. An orientation of the spirit?

    8. Does conversion depend on one’s self-definition?

    9.   Or upon decisions by others, like rabbinic courts?

    10. Or perhaps upon the informal willingness of Jews to recognize someone as family?”

    Those of us who are born Jews may also reflect on the multiple

    stages we pass through during the pathways of our lives?

    Do we find enriching moments — our own transformative doorways — along the

    way? Do we continue to grow spiritually? Or do we take the fact of Jewish birth our

    spiritual citizenship — for granted?

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