Reflections and Commentary

from Rabbi Gardner

rabbi

 

Election day comments

on Thursday, 10 November 2016.

To my progressive friends who are upset about the election:

The Democrats have lost elections before, although never to a person like Donald Trump. I have friends who feel physically ill when they think of what might happen to our country and the world. I have friends who have been crying and friends who are depressed. This is a message for those people.

First, let me say that as upset as you are about the prospect of the next administration, there were people on the other side of the political spectrum who were as upset about the election of Barack Obama. Literally as upset, and as certain that he would lead our country to destruction. Many of them believe that he has brought this country to the brink of destruction, despite the good statistics.

I am not saying that Trump and Obama are about the same, only that the viewpoint of a politician can be terribly extreme, and it is rarely deserved. The president of the United States, powerful though he (or she) might be, can only do so much. The country can be nudged in a direction, but huge sweeping changes are unlikely.

When we think about the future, we may think about Trump randomly doing things on the spur of the moment, like his late night tweets. There will be people surrounding him who, I believe, will prevent him from acting off the cuff. Because of his lack of experience in government and lack of connection to the levers of power, these people will have much more than the usual influence over him.

These people, notably Newt Gingrich, Chris Christie, Mike Pence, and Rudy Giuliani, are not the people we would have chosen to be in power. But they are not likely to start a war over a personal insult or try to change the laws to throw journalists in jail. Are they worse than people who have been in power before, like Dick Cheney, Paul Wolfowitz, and Donald Rumsfeld? We can't say just yet.

As for Trump himself, he is a mixture. He was, until he took on a new persona for the election, a fairly liberal person. He hired women for high positions when most people did not, he has said good things about Planned Parenthood, he has said that Transgendered people should use whatever bathroom they feel most comfortable using. His daughter converted to Judaism and he has a Jewish grandchild.

Is Trump racist, misogynist, and xenophobic? He is, but no more than many people in this country. This is not a Trump problem as much as it is an America problem. Neil Degrasse Tyson has said that our four year mission should be to make America smarter, so we do not elect people who are unqualified again. I think our mission should be to rid America of sexism, racism, homophobia and xenophobia. It will take longer than four years, and it will involve talking to people who do not think the same as you.

There are serious issues that may arise from the new administration. Will the United States withdraw from the Paris agreement? What will happen to health care? Who will be appointed to the Supreme Court? This are real issues, but let us deal with them as they come. In the meantime, it does not cost extra to hope for the best. 

The most important thing is not to let a childish and crude attitude in the White House cause us to also be childish and crude. We have a lot of work to do, and we must steel ourselves to do it, but in an intelligent and respectful way. May Gd watch over and protect this country, and the world.

Encounters With the Divine

on Thursday, 08 December 2016.

Rosh Hashanah Sermon 5777

Encounters with Gd Part I

Shanah Tovah, a good year to everyone. I am glad to see so many people here on this awesome and holy day. Our tradition tells us that on this day, the gates of repentance are open, that everyone is judged for good or for ill, that this is the day when we are most able to restore our connection with Gd and with each other. While modern Jews tend to view those ideas as more metaphorical than actual, it is still one of the few days that we devote almost completely to religion, to prayer and self-reflection.

Hopefully we are here because this service helps us in some way. Hopefully we are here because we find some meaning in our religion. But what is it that religion is supposed to do for us? 

Some say that the purpose of religion is to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. What does that mean? Perhaps it means this: Religion supports the afflicted, those who are poor, unhappy, or ill, and criticizes the comfortable, those who are rich and happy. And why does religion criticize them? Because they are so happy. They are not made uncomfortable by the misery of others. If they were, they would work harder to end the poverty of others. If the rich were good people, they would be miserable because of all of the suffering in the world. 

Now, if that were were really the meaning of that saying, it would mean that according to religion, everyone should be miserable. Not a very encouraging attitude, and not likely to bring the crowds in. 

In fact, that is not what that quote means at all. Religion is not something that condemns the rich and neither is it something that helps the poor. Yes, most religions encourage charity, and in other ways help the poor. Those are, in a sense, side affects of a religious worldview. But those are not really the problems with which religion deals.

The problems that religion sets out to solve are more along the lines of: "Who are we? Who should we be? How do we become something more than we are? Why do we exist? What should we think about death? Is there meaning to existence, or are our lives ultimately meaningless? And if there is meaning, what is it? What kind of lives should we be living?

Religion comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable. People who are comfortable are people who ignore these vital questions, who are able to pretend to themselves that the important thing is being promoted, or making money, or looking fabulous, or being famous or powerful. Those people should be afflicted. Afflicted by being reminded of the important questions. They should be reminded what matters in life. That is what it means to afflict the comfortable. And to comfort the afflicted means to provide answers to those questions.

I am not criticizing people who work hard, who buy nice clothes, or play games. No one can constantly focus on the big questions. There is work to be done. There are dinners to cook, floors to sweep, bills to pay. And we deserve to take a little time off, to enjoy ourselves, watch a little TV. But we cannot always look away either. There are times when we are forced to confront these great questions of meaning and existence.

When a baby is born, when you realize your child is almost an adult, when you are struck by the almost unbearable beauty of the world. When two people decide to commit to one another forever. When someone you love is seriously ill, or close to death. These are the times when we cannot ignore the big questions. These are the times when we need to know what it all means. These are the times when our hearts are sorely afflicted. It is not a coincidence that these are the times we connect to our religion.

Because religion has an answer to all of those questions. That's right. Religion will answer all of the questions of your inmost soul. That's the good news. The bad news is, the answer is even more difficult than the questions. Here is the answer:

Gd. 

The answer is Gd. Not an old man sitting on a throne in the clouds. Not a superman who grants wishes. But the Answer. The Giver of meaning. The Way to fulfillment. What that word 'Gd' means, I can't tell you because each person must understand Gd personally, his or her own self, or not at all. Gd is not a thing, not a part of the world. To even partially understand Gd means to have an encounter with Gd, and once you do, there are no more words.

Religion is here to afflict the comfortable. To remind you of those questions. Why are we here? What does it mean? How do we create meaningful lives? The modern answer, the scientific answer, the atheistic answer is that it doesn't mean anything. There is no fulfillment, the atheist might say, except for basic biological needs.

But that answer doesn't feel right. It doesn't pass the smell test. I feel deep within myself that there is more to life than eating and sleeping, that there is, somewhere, meaning. And so have the vast majority of human beings since there were human beings. And so do you. Which is why you are here, hoping that religion will give you the meaning of existence.

It will. Religion will comfort the afflicted. Religion will give you the answer to all the questions of meaning. The purpose of religion is to reveal Gd to you, and for you to reveal your heart to Gd. Religion will not do it for you. It will train you to do it yourself. 

Coming to synagogue and saying prayers is not having an encounter with Gd. It is an exercise that will prepare you for your encounter with Gd. The Torah is your map of the way. It guides you with hints and signs. It will give you directions, but they are not easy to understand. They are hidden in stories and in commandments. We listen to our stories again and again. Sometimes the Torah is like a lens for your eyes, and the path suddenly opens before you.

There is a story we tell every year at this time. It is one of a million clues to the answer. The Binding of Isaac. Gd tells a man, Abraham, to take his son, his only son, the son that he loves, to a place that will be revealed, and offer him up there as a sacrifice. The man proceeds with alacrity. He wakes up early and starts off with his son and two servants.

Already we have more questions. Why does he go? Why doesn't he protest? Why does he go quickly? How does he know where to go? What kind of relationship does he have with Gd, that this story can make any kind of sense?

We know that Gd has already, in almost exactly the same words, told him to leave his home. And he left his home. Did this make him rich or famous? Did it give him land or treasure? No. Abraham is only moderately successful. The only thing he has gotten out of it is that very son he is now told to sacrifice.

Promises were made. And yes, a miracle happened. The man and his wife had a child, although they were too old to have children. Gd made promises that were to be fulfilled through this boy. Kings will come from you. Your descendants will be as the sand of the sea, as the stars of the sky. This beautiful land will belong to your offspring. People will bless themselves in your name. All of that will come through his son. 

And then Gd tells Abraham to sacrifice this son, and Abraham takes Isaac to a mountain and binds him there to the altar. Why does he do it? What does Abraham know about Gd? Having encountered Gd before.

Abraham knows this: He knows that Gd may demand that you leave your home, and your family. Gd may demand that you find your own way. Abraham also knows that Gd is just. He knows that Gd has the power to create and to destroy. And that Gd is the giver of meaning. Gd has promised him that it will all make sense in the end, even if that end will come long after Abraham is dead. Abraham believes it, because he has encountered Gd before.

So he takes his son and travels to the mountain. To find the answer. To find meaning. When Gd told him to leave his home in parasha Lech L'cha, Abraham didn't know where he was going. Somehow he ended up in the right place. Here too, Gd will not tell him where he is going. Gd doesn't tell him because you cannot know until you are there, but as soon as you are there, you know it.

And what does Gd ask Abraham to give up? His future. His love. His son. Except that is not what Gd asks him to give up. We know that, at the end of the story, Gd will not ask Abraham to give up his son, because fulfillment, meaning, peace, joy, none of that can come from such an action. 

Abraham is afflicted, and Gd will give him the answer to all his questions. Gd answers by manifesting Himself on that mountain. Gd is the angel and Gd is the altar. Gd is the knife. Abraham has his final and most intense encounter with Gd there on the mountain, and it will last the rest of his life. 

Every person who encounters Gd changes, and never returns to the person she was before. Abraham never goes back to Avram, Sarah never returns to Sarai. The two of them will never go back to Ur. Once Gd tells you to leave your home, you have a new home.

What Gd asks Abraham to give up on Mt. Moriah is his self, the self that he thought he was. The self he was before the encounter with Gd. The self that was afflicted with questions and doubts. Abraham binds his whole life on the altar, and he gives it up to Gd. The knowledge you thought you had, the person you thought you were, prepare to abandon it completely in the encounter with the Divine.

Abraham offers it up, and Gd says now I know that you are completely willing to abandon everything for an encounter with Me. To encounter Gd is to change, and Abraham is changed. What do we make of the ram, discovered in the bushes? The rabbis did not believe that it was an ordinary ram, that just happened to be caught in the bushes. They said it was created directly by Gd for this purpose, in the last moments of creation.

The difference between the two sacrifices, Isaac and the ram, is critical. To sacrifice Isaac is to sacrifice yourself, to give up the essence of your being. Sacrificing the ram is giving up what is external, what comes and goes. Sometimes we mistake the two. In Victor Frankl's book Man in Search of Meaning he deals with the question of what can be taken from a person. What is internal and what is external? What is the self, and what is other? Frankl's possessions, his profession, his home, his name-- everything that he thought was an essential part of him was taken away. And it all turned out to be external.

Abraham does sacrifice Isaac on the altar. He sacrifices himself. He sacrifices that self that is separate from Gd, the self that does not know. Because an encounter with Gd forces you to deal with the part that is internal. What is really you. Your love, your hate, your goodness, your true face. Offer it up on the altar. Give it to Gd. Let Gd wake you up.

When we see the world in this way, suddenly a lot of Judaism begins to make sense. Take the book of Job. Job looses everything external. He looses his flocks, his wealth, even his health. He looses his children, and he cries out to Gd, what did I do that you are punishing me in this way? His friends come and tell him that he must have sinned to be suffering this way.

This is a childish view of religion. You are a good person, so you will be rich, you'll be lucky, you'll be happy. Bad things will never happen to you. Job is one of those comfortable people who needs to be afflicted. He is happy, he is kind, he is rich. He is content to think that things will continue along like this forever. He is content not to face the bigger questions of life. He is ripe for affliction. And affliction is what he gets.

When his friends tell him to confess his sin and Gd will reward him again, they are wrong. At the end of the book, Job gets his true reward for his goodness. He has an encounter with Gd. It changes him. It changes him completely. He no longer expects to be wealthy because he is a good person. He no longer expects to be healthy because he is kind. He no longer thinks that his behavior will keep tragedy from his door. He knows Gd. And that is his reward.

All of Torah is about the radical change that comes when human beings encounter Gd. Our story, the Binding of Isaac, is only one example of this ancient text giving us this message. Abraham encounters Gd, and Gd says to him "Now I know that you are ירא אלקים אתה," now I know that you are a Gd-fearing person, a person who is able to open himself up to Gd, "because you have not withheld your son"-- meaning yourself, your inmost self--, your love, "from Me."

Abraham names that place ײַ יִרְאֶה, which means Gd will see, or perhaps, Gd will realize, because, the Torah tells us, on the Mountain of the Eternal, Gd will be seen. So to see Gd and to be seen by Gd are the same thing. All actual life, as Martin Buber said, is encounter. To find true meaning, to answer the crucial questions, to live our real lives, we must encounter the ultimate Truth of the universe.

Abraham is the father of the Jews because he got an answer to those important questions. Who am I? Why do I exist? Why does anything exist? What should I do? What does it mean? Abraham was afflicted, and Gd comforted him.

If you are asking yourself those big questions, that's good. One of the reasons we have the Days of Awe is because people don't ask those questions enough. If they keep you up at night, that's good. You are afflicted, and religion will comfort you. 

But if you never ask those questions, you are a little too comfortable. I want to remind you to ask them. I want to afflict you. The answer to those questions is Gd. If you open your heart to Gd, Gd will see you. If you do not withhold your inmost self, if you are willing to look beyond everything external-- yes, Gd will see you. And that encounter is the answer to all your questions.

Religion is a way of dealing with the big questions of life. There is an answer. There is meaning. Follow the map. The map of Torah. Climb the mountain. Build the altar. Offer yourself up. The Answer is waiting for you.

May you be sealed in the book of life, the book of questions, and also the book of answers. Shanah Tovah tikoteivu.

Erev Rosh Hashanah sermon 5777

on Thursday, 10 November 2016.

The Judaism of Right Now

Shanah tovah tikoteivu, may you all be blessed with a wonderful year! 5777. It sounds lucky, doesn't it? This past year has really been a year with ups and downs. It has been a year of growing and a year of learning, but a year also of loss and sorrow. For some of us who suffered losses in the Jewish year 5776, we wish we could turn the clock back to Rosh Hashanah last year.

I miss Mother's. They had the best babka. When I visited my great aunt and uncle in Riverdale, they would always take me to Mother's for a black and white.

But there are other people who miss, not Mother's the bakery, but their actual mothers, who may have been alive this time last year, who may have shared wishes for a good year, who may have shared a Rosh Hashanah meal. And since big wishes are no more expensive than small ones, while we're at it, we might wish that we could turn the clock back further, when people who passed away 10, 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago were still with us. I would love to be saving seats tonight for my grandparents and for my great aunt and uncle.

There are other reasons to reach back in time a bit. I would love to be standing here on this bimah in the days when we had 900 members. I have been told that the seats were full on the High Holidays and people had to sit on the third floor and look out into the ballroom. Many times people have told me they wish they could turn back the clock to when Riverdale Temple was bursting with congregants. I would love to have an assistant rabbi. I would love to have a big confirmation class and Junior Congregation meeting in the library.

And it was not just Riverdale Temple that was different in those days. The Bronx was full of Jews not long ago. In 1940, there were around 2000 kosher delis in New York City, many of them in the Bronx. Jerome Avenue, Grand Concourse-- These were Jewish neighborhoods. People spoke Yiddish, and shopped in Jewish stores. Department stores, jewelry stores, kosher butchers, place where they knew your name. Everyone had a synagogue to belong to, and at least one other that they would never set foot in.

Of course, people loved the Jewish baseball players and basketball players in those days, but the real stars were the Chazanim-- the great cantors, who were more famous than movie stars and commanded huge salaries. In the summer people would go to the Catskills and rent a bungalow, or stay in one of the great resort hotels there. Grossinger's, the Concord, Kutcher's... places to meet other Jews from New York, places to hear people like Myron Cohen, Burns and Allen, Eddie Cantor, and Al Jolson, and places to eat until you could eat no more.

In those days there were fewer questions about Judaism. Almost everyone belonged to a synagogue, which is why this synagogue had so many members. Even the apikorsim, the unbelievers, grudgingly went to synagogue with their parents, and sent their kids to religious school. Those were the golden days of Jewish New York. The golden days of the Jewish Bronx.

Wouldn't it be wonderful to go back in time to those days? When Jews were Jews? To meet your grandparents when they were young and drink a glass of tea in the coffee shop? Listen to "The Goldbergs" on the radio, catch Jack Benny's vaudeville act? 

We may think of the old days, but physically it is not possible to go back in time. But why is today so different from those days? What happened to those golden days of Yiddishkeit? Where did all those Jews go? Is there some way we could bring those days back, and live in Jewish neighborhoods and share Jewish food and Jewish entertainment with our Jewish friends?

When we think of a 'Golden Age' of Judaism, we think of a thriving Jewish culture. We often think of great Jews, many of them our own ancestors. What feels strongly Jewish to me is the thought of my grandfather's great love of Judaism. My grandmother playing mah-jong and gin rummy with 'the girls,' and the wonderful food she would cook for us when we all went over to their place on Mosholu Parkway. I want to have that total Jewish experience again. But if I could go back in time to a Passover Seder at my great aunt and uncle's house on Fieldston road, would I fit in?

In our Lunch and Learn series last year we read stories from the Talmud. One of those stories was about Honi haMagel, Honi the circle-drawer. In the story, he falls asleep for seventy years. When he wakes up, he goes looking for his son, but finds that his son is dead. In search of his grandson, he goes to the synagogue, only to overhear someone saying "In the days of Honi the circle maker, there was never a piece of Torah that we didn't understand, for Honi would explain it to us." Honi goes over to them and tells them that he is Honi the Circle-drawer, but they don't believe him. They don't listen to his explanations of Torah, and they show him no honor.  Honi leaves the synagogue, and prays for death, and he dies. He wants to die because he realizes that he does not belong in that time period. He does not fit in.

The people in that synagogue saw the days of Honi as a golden age, when there were no difficulties with Torah. Honi sees his 'time travel' as an opportunity to bring his Torah knowledge to a new generation. But they both find they are wrong. Honi's day may or may not have been a golden age. But in either case, Honi's knowledge and Judaism was for Honi's time, and it was meaningless in any other time.

Was New York in the 20's, 30's, 40's, and 50's really a golden age for Jews? Remember that the big hotels like Grossingers and the Concord were successful because Jews were not allowed to stay in other hotels. Remember that the Jews stuck together because no one else would have them. Many Jews worked with my grandfather in the shmatta business because it wasn't so easy for a Jew to become a lawyer or a doctor, or to get a job in a non-Jewish business.

Remember that there were lots of kosher restaurants because we didn't go to the non-kosher restaurants, or if we did, we had to do it on the sly, when we hoped no one would see us. We went to Goldstein's Deli, but we didn't go to Delmonico's, or the Plaza.

Remember too that Jews pulled together to shelter from the cold winds of anti-semitism both at home and in Europe, winds that would turn into a storm that would sweep away two-thirds of Europe's Jews. And we had no power, in those days, to shelter those Jews. 

There was no Jewish country, no Jewish army to fight the murderers. There was no movement here strong enough to demand that the United States take more Jews as refugees, or even take as many as were allowed in. many of the Jews here in the 30's, 40's and 50's were refugees, people who had lost their families, people who had lost their homes. Of course they spent all their time with other Jews.

If we were to go back in time, would we fit in to the Jewish world? Would we laugh at the radio shows, or really wish for a TV, or the internet? We would wonder where our black friends were, our gay friends. We would wonder where the female rabbis were. I would guess that if we went back in time and came to Riverdale Temple, many of us would feel that we didn't belong.

The style of service was different then. Clothes were different. Rabbis spoke in a grand way that might seem a little too stylized for us. We wouldn't know the people. We wouldn't belong.

Since the time of Honi, Judaism has always been a religion of its own time and place. We experience Judaism through its culture, which is local, and specific to that time. For us, Judaism may be connected to eating nova and reading the New York Times. For my grandfather, it may have been belly lox and the Forverts. Times change. We can't go back. I would love to see my grandparents again. But I wouldn't trade my existence in the present for an existence in the past. I wouldn't trade my daughter for for my grandparents, much as I love them.

So we give up the idealized vision of the Judaism of the past. We give up outdated ideas about what it means to be Jewish, So the question before us is this: What kind of Judaism are we going to have now? What kind of Judaism will there be in the year 5777? It won't be too different from the Judaism of 5776, but it will be different. It is fun to look back. But if we want to go someplace we have to look forward.

We should think about what kind of Judaism there will be fifty years from now. What will the Bronx look like? What will Riverdale Temple look like? But while looking at the future may help us make changes now, we don't want to live in the future any more than we want to live in the past. We need the Judaism of right now, and we have to make it, because it will not happen by itself. So what does the Judaism of right now look like? 

The first thing I can tell you about it is that I can't tell you everything about it. Because the Judaism of right now does not come from the rabbi. The rabbi is a resource, the rabbi is a connection to the Torah and tradition, but the Judaism of right now must come from each and every one of you. Today we define ourselves, we do not need to fit into categories. The same will be true of your Judaism.

The second thing I can tell you is that the synagogue will not be the only place you practice Judaism. We love the synagogue, we want to support the synagogue, but the Judaism of right now will overflow its walls. It must. Synagogues are wonderful places, this synagogue is an important center of our community, but if this is the only place that you get your Judaism, there will be no Judaism of the future. 

Find your Judaism, and live it fully. Bring your Judaism with you, online, to your home, to your work or school. Invite friends from the synagogue home, invite them to a concert, invite people from work to your synagogue. Whether they are Jewish or not. And then talk to them about what they liked and didn't like about it.

Talk to your family about what Judaism means, about what life means, about what Gd means. Talk to your friends about it. Don't be ashamed to say you are religious. Don't be afraid to say you are not religious. Don't be ashamed to say you are not sure what it means to be religious. 

Each person here should ask herself what her Judaism is. And when you find that part of yourself, live it. Strengthen it. Build it up. If Judaism means to you being a good person, then be a better person. Get involved with some of the things we do here, food donation, mitzvah day. Bring more social action and social justice to the synagogue. We are hungry for it. If Judaism means to support world Judaism, there are many ways you can do that. If it means supporting Israel, do that. If it means working for a more ideal Israel, then that is what you should be doing. If it means honoring your parents or grandparents by taking on a traditional Jewish practice, or giving up a traditional Jewish practice, do that. Live your Judaism through study, through social action, through prayer, through art or through community, but live it now.

And if Judaism means something to you that I have not mentioned-- and it may very well-- do not hesitate to pursue it. Do not fail to bring it to the synagogue. because we need the Judaism that is appropriate for today. We need the Judaism that works in 2016, in 5777. We cannot survive on the Judaism of the past. We don't need the Judaism of the future. We need the Judaism of right now. 

Walt Whitman said "The strongest and sweetest songs are yet to be sung." He should have said "The strongest and sweetest songs are now being sung." Because they are the songs we are singing right now. We can't hear the songs of the future. They are yet to be sung. We can't hear the songs of the past. Those songs were for their own time, and now they are done. This is our Judaism. The Judaism of right now.

Good Question

on Sunday, 01 May 2016.

Why did we read a different Torah portion on Shabbat?

A congregant recently sent me a question. She was trying to read up on the Torah portion in advance for this past Shabbat. When she looked on line for what we would be reading, she got different answers from different websites. Why? Here is part of my answer: Usually the Reform Judaism website is good for the Torah portion, but not this week! Most Reform synagogues do not keep two days of holidays. Therefore, since for those who do keep two days (Riverdale Temple included), Saturday was the 8th day of Passover, we read a special Passover Torah reading. For those who do not keep two days, there are only 7 days to Passover, and so Saturday was a regular Shabbat. Therefore they read the next portion in the yearly cycle. This is true also in Israel, where they only keep one day. So are we all on different Torah portions now? No. Adjustments are made. For example, the Reform movement will read the same portion next week, putting them back in sync with everyone else. Great question!

Happy Passover!

on Thursday, 28 April 2016.

Embracing freedom

Passover is the time of our freedom. Ask yourself where in your life you need more freedom. Everyone has their own Egypt within, their own Pharaoh, and their own Moses, demanding "Let my people go!" Remember, the amount of freedom you accept on Passover is the amount of revelation you receive on Shavuot!

Migrants

on Friday, 04 September 2015.

When I saw the picture of the three year old Syrian boy, drowned as his family attempted
to migrate illegally to Europe, I knew it demanded comment. My first reaction was anger. If a
young man wants to risk his life to cross the sea in a raft, that's one thing. How dare he risk the
lives of his wife and children as well? My second thought was to ask how bad was his life in Syria,
that he was willing to take this chance?

Non Jewish Partners

on Tuesday, 07 July 2015.

The Jewish Week of August 21st had a cover article on the possibility that the Reconstructionist
Rabbinical College might change or remove the requirement that ordinees not be married
to non-Jews. When I applied to Hebrew Union College, there was a notorious 'pink form' that applicants
were required to sign, promising not to marry or enter into a serious relationship with
non-Jews.

Rabbi Everett Gendler

on Wednesday, 08 June 2016.

There was an interesting article in the May 20th edition of the Forward, by Talya Zax. The article was about Rabbi Everett Gendler, and Zax quoted him as saying "I think a persistent pain is the terrible discrepancy between the ideal and the actual, the sense that we are really divinely commanded to live with consideration for others and the avoidance of injury to others, at the same time we are commanded to live full lives and enjoy. Sometimes it's so difficult to reconcile those."

While I agree that there is a discrepancy between the ideal and the actual, I see no problem in reconciling the idea that we should live full lives and that we should act out of concern for others. It would be more difficult to enjoy my life knowing that I was hurting others. No doubt Rabbi Gendler is a better person than I am, and his concern for others interferes with his ability to enjoy his life, while mine does not. 

I hope I am following a middle path. I do try to live in such a way that I help others, or at least do as little harm as possible. What I do for others helps me feel fulfilled. What helps you feel fulfilled?

RH #2 5776

on Sunday, 01 November 2015.

At the beginning of our religious year, during the most important and sacred time of the year, we open the Torah and read the story of the Akedah, The Binding of Isaac. The story is short, only nineteen verses, but it is very intense. A man who has spoken directly to Gd, who has been promised by Gd that his descendants will be as the sands of the shore and the stars of the sky, is told by Gd to take his son and offer him up as a sacrifice. How are we to understand this story, that depicts Abraham our ancestor, and even Gd, in an unfavorable light?

Superheros

on Friday, 18 December 2015.

I was speaking to Sidney Greene the other day, and she told me that she was a big fan of the Marvel comic company. She hasn't seen all of the superhero movies, but she has seen all of the good superhero movies, and reads the comics when she can. I also enjoy the movies, and was an avid reader of the comics when I was a bit younger.

The Living God

on Sunday, 01 November 2015.

Shanah tovah tikoteivu, may you be inscribed for blessing in the Book of Life! I am truly honored to be standing here before you on this important day, this holy day, as your rabbi. To be here at Riverdale Temple is to connect to all of the great rabbis who have stood here before me, and to connect also to all those who have called this synagogue their congregational home.