By Rabbi Richard Sarason
On Yom Kippur, Yizkor memorial prayers are recited for our deceased relatives as well as for the martyrs of the Jewish people (in our own day, particularly for those who died in the Holocaust). This is an old custom, going back to the time of the Crusades in the Rhineland (11th-12th centuries).
The aftermath of those massacres gave rise to a series of ritualized memorials – initially of communal martyrs on the anniversary of the slaughter (around the time of Shavuot), including children mourning lost parents and parents mourning lost children. The use of the Kaddish as a memorial prayer recited on behalf of one’s deceased parents originated in this milieu, as did the customs of observing the anniversary (Yahrzeit) of a parent’s death and kindling a memorial candle. The Yizkor prayers, beginning with the wordsYizkor elohim nishmat . . . (“May God remember the soul of . . .”) were first formulated then.1 Eventually this ritual was regularized on Yom Kippur and spread beyond the Rhineland to other Jewish communities. The recitation of Yizkor prayers also on the last days of the Festivals apparently originated in central Europe following the massacres of Jews in the German lands during the Black Death of the 14th century, but became more common in eastern Europe in the 17th century, with the popularization of Lurianic kabbalah by mystics who stressed the penitential aspect of the Festivals. The prayer El malei rachamim, a central element of the memorial service, originated in 17th-century Ukraine at the time of the Chmielnicki massacres. It implores God to bind up in the bound of everlasting life the soul of the deceased.
Traditionally, these core memorial prayers in the Ashkenazic rite are recited, together with several psalm texts, after the reading of the Haftarah, before the Torah is returned to the ark. The creation of a separate and extended Yizkor “service” is modern, the creation of 19th-century Reform Judaism, particularly in America. To extend the memorial rite beyond the basic traditional prayers, various other thematically relevant psalms and original vernacular readings and meditations were added. This is the structure and content of the Yizkor service in all modern prayer books. Today it is customary for that service to take place on Yom Kippur afternoon, between the afternoon and concluding services (Minchahand Ne’ilah). That practice was regularized in the Union Prayer Book, vol. 2 (1894). In Isaac Mayer Wise’s Minhag America, vol. 2 (1864), Yizkor was recited at the end of the Yom Kippur evening service. In David Einhorn’s Olat Tamid (1858), memorial prayers were recited at the end of the afternoon service, and the Polish Eil maleh rachamim was replaced with the equivalent Spanish-Portuguese Menuchah n’chonah prayer.
- For an excellent account of the development of these memorial customs in the Rhineland, see Ivan G. Marcus, The Jewish Life Cycle: Rites of Passage from Biblical to Modern Times (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 2004), pp. 224-241.
Dr. Sarason is Professor of Rabbinic Literature and Thought and the Associate Editor of the Hebrew Union College Annual. He was ordained at HUC-JIR.
JERUSALEM (JTA) — A mother in Israel has appealed to the country’s Supreme Court a rabbinical court ruling requiring her to circumcise her son.
In her appeal filed Wednesday, the mother said the rabbis cannot order her to circumcise her son, who is now a year old.
The Jerusalem rabbinical court last month upheld the ruling of the Netanya rabbinical court ordering the mother to have her son circumcised as per her ex-husband’s wishes or pay a $142 fine each day until the procedure is performed. The Netanya court presided over the woman’s divorce, according to Haaretz.
The boy was not circumcised on the eighth day, as per Jewish custom, due to medical problems, according to reports.
The Jerusalem court said it believes the mother is using the circumcision as leverage in her divorce, but she told Haaretz last month that she “started reading about what actually happens in circumcision, and I realized that I couldn’t do that to my son.”
The mother has not been identified in media reports.
Neshama Carlebach says she has felt like a ‘refugee from Orthodoxy’ for the past couple of decades. The daughter of Rabbi Shlomo Carlebach explains why she is now a reform Jew.Click here for the rest of the article...
An Israeli woman appealed to the Supreme Court on Wednesday against a rabbinical ruling that ordered her to circumcise her one-year-old son, the Justice Ministry said, in the first case of its kind.Click here for the rest of the article...
This article by Rabbi Robert Nosanchuk originally appeared on December 16, 2013 on the Fairmount Temple blog.
My rabbi once took a tour of a glassware plant. While on the tour, he witnessed an experiment in which a glass bottle was used to knock a large nail through a thick board of wood. A few seconds later the same bottle was put on a table and a little metal pellet was dropped, ever so carefully into the bottle. However, when the small metal pellet hit the bottom of the bottle the entire thing shattered into thousands of little fragments of glass. Why did that occur?
Well, it was explained that the outside of the bottle had cooled slowly and surely when the bottle was manufactured and as a result it had a hard resilience that could stand up to a great deal of wear and tear. On the other hand, the inside of the bottle had been cooled too quickly and as a result had become too brittle to even be able to withstand the impact of even a tiny metal aggressor.
The parable of the bottle is a symbol of a problem we face in holding ourselves together at this moment in time. We look back on the last year since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School. We remember the thousands who’ve died by gunfire since, and we realize how so many our waking hours we spent building an outer resilience. We thickened our skin and strengthened our grit, always projecting an exterior resolve, pledging to do something while our national leaders for the most part did nothing, or nothing useful, and we accepted it. We acquiesced to their path of meaningless talk without meaningful walk.
Before the attack in Newtown, CT, the President wasn’t going to do anything either, though he saw the same stories we did about the toll of gun violence in the cities of this nation. Neither he nor we could’ve read the fine details, read carefully through each of the stories bearing witness to all that could’ve and would’ve and should’ve prevented the name Sandy Hook from ever entering the national vocabulary of anguished American cities. It’s just too hard to face, we’ve complained. It’s too painful to listen and hold on to the ugly details.
So before the story is even finished, knowing only that our Senator or our Representative would vote down any bill that changed the status quo- we typed a few fighting words about the gun debate into the social media ether to express our outrage. This was a step that could be easily quelled by a blaring song ringing from the highest mountaintops in our nation, telling us that the gun lobby is right. They have the high moral ground, after all – since they are waving a copy of constitution in their hands.
- Besides: Aurora happened there…in Colorado, at a theatre late at night. I don’t even go out after dark.
- Oak Creek happened in a Sikh Temple. But that must’ve been about a hate monger with a grudge against the Sikhs.
- And yes, gun violence riddled that abortion doctor in his Kansas church. But that was him. I’m not even political.
It wasn’t in my synagogue or my community center or my workplace. So what am I worried about? It happened then. It happened there. It’s not me. It won’t be me. If you repeat this over and again with surety, it’s not that different than the sound of a bottle meaninglessly hammering a nail into a board.
As a religious leader, I fear we have come to focus too much on building that outer shell around us for a strictly political debate. We have hidden within our shells- complacent and complaining about our movement’s apparent impotence in the face of the bullies on the other side with better funding and louder speakers. As people of faith we would do well to not try and outflank these thugs who currently own congress. For ours is a movement not just to strengthen gun laws, but a movement to fight back against a culture of vengeance and brutality that too often decays our well-being and our faith.
This is a fight that won’t be waged only on the Senate floor, but inside of us, that place of determination inside us. It is that same place Congresswoman Giffords and her husband Commander Kelly had to access when she was gunned down in front of that Arizona grocery store at a Congressional Meet & Greet. If there is one thing that Gabby Giffords taught us since she literally rose up from the dead, it is to look deep inside of us for our depth, for our determination and for our faith in a better day to rise.
No, the debate about background checks, the one about assault weapons and easy access to cop-killing ammunition is not a debate to simply wage once and walk away. Rather we must wage this campaign again and again. We must raise our voice and fight our fight with determination. As a Jewish proponent of stronger gun laws, this means listening to fellow members of my faith community call me a Nazi, stating that Hitler’s first step was to disarm his citizens- as though my voice against gun violence was one pledging allegiance to tyranny and state-imposed genocide. What a bunch of nonsense! Yet given these accusations, I’ll need patience, moral clarity and determination to look beyond this congress to raise ideals up in a new generation who will feel themselves called upon to run and serve in congress untethered to the gun lobby’s hush money.
Sadly I have seen incidents of severe and constant gun violence touch every community I’ve served. And this has changed the way I teach, since I am watching a demoralizing trend. When I study the Genesis story of the binding of Isaac with my students just coming of age, they tell me they find it hard to believe that God stopped Abraham from harming his son on Mount Moriah. It’s not that they deny God’s existence. It’s that my students are so exposed to violence that they find it implausible that God could and would stop the violence, even if he wanted to. For young people growing up today, gun violence and domestic violence are common threads of the same stories they hear. And frankly, it makes them think that brutality and lethal force are the rule in our culture and not the exception.
As their rabbi, I hope and pray my students will go to our leaders to demand a change in gun laws to protect them in their schools and in our public buildings. I want them to join me in demanding the enforcement of our existing gun laws… and on this one-year anniversary, I never want them to forget what it looked like to see the faces of twenty slaughtered six and seven and six courageous educators across their TV and computer screens, martyred before they could even grow into young men and women.
It is of no surprise to me that there was not a public service of remembrance in Newtown this weekend. For the greatest memorial we could ever give those children and their teachers is to deny brutal force the place of reverence it currently holds in our society. We must destroy the idolatry around guns and ammunition- for moral resolve and adult responsibility are not owned by those who demand vengeance and retribution on a biblical scale. No, the wars and threats and strict judgments issued in the Bible, the Torah or the Quran…are ultimately trumped in those very same texts by the power of compassion found in nearly all our faith scriptures.
How do all these faith values play out in our day-to-day lives? Well, there is one thing we know: conflicts like what happened in Sandy Hook last year will again arise. And it is fairly predictable how the news of the disaster will take over the airwaves. “It was a lone gunman,” the newswoman will try to reassure us. But who was he? What was his race, his religion, his nationality? What was his motive? These questions will flow out rapid fire. Where did he get all that ammunition? Did he tell his brother or his sister or his roommate he was planning it?
As the settings of such violence get more varied and less predictable- the questions will break through to us in our homes and workplaces and tear away at our spirits. Why would he try to shoot people at a Holocaust Museum? Is he a terrorist?. How did he have clearance to get into the Navy Yard? Did his parents know he was enraged? Did his daughters know that he had a gun in his car, in case his wife said she was leaving, and unwilling to take his beatings and assaults any longer? The questions can be so dizzying you hardly realize the attack you are describing happened right nearby your home or school.
It is imperative that at those moments when we are struck by gun violence – that we look back on the promises we made the last time, the time back at Columbine, the time back in Chardon. For if we can be honest, truly honest that we can realize we broke our promises to act to end gun violence. We were like the bottle in the experiment at the glassware plant. At the moment of violent impact we went to pieces.
Friends, there is nothing wrong with falling apart in and of itself. Frailty, fear, pain, darkness, chaos they are the story of the beginnings of the Universe. For God to begin creating, God must first interact with tohu va’vovohu, the chaotic matter that precedes light in Genesis. When God is speaking to the first human beings, God asks Ayekah? Where are you? But it is not because God doesn’t know. God asks Ayekah, where are you, to God’s children in order to allow them to speak up and share where they are in terms of fear, confusion and pain. But our answer to God’s question is not in words- it is in partnering with God and with one another to heal the world!
So just as fragile and human as we are to go to pieces when gun violence strikes, we are obliged at those same moments not to stay locked in our fits of despair and brokenness. We must not, we cannot do that. This is rather a moment to remember that if our faiths can teach us one thing- it is to use what we have in our minds, in our bodies and in our souls to forge a path of blessing, to thwart or at the very least to curb the gunfire that corrodes our society.
We can do it, friends. We are not subject forever to the misjudgments of our leaders in this Congress. And as much terrain as the gun lobby has secured, we must not and dare not cede to them a moral high ground on these matters. For on this 1st anniversary of December 14, 2012, it must be said: Our society’s obsession with guns and gun rights, our unfettered access and unchecked backgrounds when it comes to guns and ammunition, is nothing but pure idolatry. And if we are to block this idolatry from finding its way into our kids classrooms and the streets they walk home from school, from our workplaces and our public buildings and our houses of worship, we must sustain our moral outrage!
This leads me to a story, with which I will conclude. It seems there were two waves out in the midst of the ocean, a big wave and a little wave, only the little wave noticed that the big wave was crying. “What are you doing?” she asked the big wave. And he replied. “I’m crying…because I can see over your shoulders that all of our brother and sister waves are dying as they crash into the shore.”
“You don’t have to cry about that,” the little wave responded. “I don’t?” he asked. “No.” “You are going to tell me, it will all be alright,” said the big wave. “No, I wouldn’t say that,” said the little wave. “That wouldn’t help. But I can help you. I can change your thoughts, and I can help you in just six words. At which point he assented to hear the little wave’s words. So she looked at him and said: “You are not a wave, you are water.”
“You are not a wave, you are water.”
All that we need to turn a moment of fear and helplessness to a moment of renewal and strength is to look inside us and decide what we are made of. And the same is true now- the same thing is true today. So all I ask you today is “Are you ready?” Are you ready to renew your promise, to fulfill your hopes for a better and stronger and more secure and civil and safe society for you and your children? Are you ready to remember that you are not a wave that arose only to crash and die. Rather you are part of an ocean’s worth of water that can erode even the most stubborn of rocks on the shore.
Water we are- that can force even the bravest of foes to flee into a barricade when we rise to hurricane force. We are not a wave that arose last winter only to crash and die on the Senate Floor in April! We are not a wave that can afford to stand heartbroken. Friends, we are water. We can surround the damn island ahead of us and move past it, and if we are willing to stand at each other’s side, if we will do so unified with mutual respect and shared faith, if we do so with a belief in what is possible and the courage to ignore those who say the world can never be healed. If we do all that, a new day will rise, a messianic age of peace and tranquility, a time of fulfillment and of compassion. Keyn Y’hi Ratzon, So may it be. May this age of brutality soon cease, so that an ocean’s worth of love can flood our world. Amen.
Rabbi Robert Nosanchuk is the Senior Rabbi at Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple in Beachwood, OH. This article is excerpted from the keynote address Rabbi Nosanchuk presented at the Cleveland Commemoration of the Sandy Hook Shootings, sponsored by the Multi-Faith Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.
For Jewish and pro-Israel groups, the congressional year is ending with an odd reversal: the prospect, however fragile, of bipartisan comity on budget issues coupled with a rare partisan disagreement on Middle Eastern policy.Click here for the rest of the article...
Rabbi Mordechai “Motti” Elon, an Israeli Modern Orthodox leader, was sentenced to six months of community service for his conviction on two charges of sexually assaulting a minor.Click here for the rest of the article...
As Participants Pray for the Manifest Sins of The United States of America, Planners from "Save America Gathering" Seek Long-Term Prayer-Impact on the Lives of Christians and Messianic...
(PRWeb November 21, 2013)
Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2013/11/prweb11356571.htm
JERUSALEM (JTA) — Every decade or so, yet another demographic survey reveals the obvious: The American-Jewish community is in flux, with affiliation falling.
Each time, the community circles back to what we know works: high-quality Jewish education, along with Jewish camps and Israel programs. Taken together, these are effective identity builders, especially if repeated over many years.
I am a product of the Solomon Schechter Day School system, and my children attended the independent Jewish Community Day School when we lived in Newton, Mass. My Jewish education, bolstered by Young Judaea and other camps and Israel programs, sparked several decades of serving the Jewish people in the nonprofit realm.
This meant I was doubly taxed: first, the expensive day school bills, and second, a lower salary than friends and family members because I worked for Jewish nonprofits.
The Jewish community needs new ideas to ease the financial burden on families. I was a scholarship kid growing up and am grateful for the assistance I received from the community and Hadassah. We also have seen that new programs that require seemingly out-of-reach financial resources can work. Example No. 1: Birthright Israel.
Part of Birthright’s success is attributable to the Israeli government’s decision to allocate significant funds to enhance Jewish identity of youth outside Israel. This serves as positive testimony of what can be done when we see Israel as a full partner in preserving and enhancing Jewish identity worldwide.
Now Israel, and the strength of its economy, also can play a critical role in making day schools affordable in new ways.
Israel has an excellent credit rating — A+, according to Standard & Poor’s. The Bank of Israel could make long-term, low-interest loans available to Jewish families, perhaps working with an Israeli bank that has a U.S. affiliate. Or at the very least, it could provide a loan guarantee for day school parents.
While our children were at Jewish Community Day School, my wife, Susan, and I took out a $23,000 loan one year to help cover tuition through Prepgate, a commercial service for private-school families. It carried a relatively high interest rate of LIBOR plus 5 to 10 percent. If the loan were generated by the Bank of Israel and passed along to us at cost, it would be far more affordable.
Here’s how Israel’s financial role would work: While a child is enrolled in Jewish day school, part of the repayments would be covered for parents — half by the local Jewish federation and half by the State of Israel.
Payments would be frozen whenever the recipient visited Israel, whether on summer programs, junior year abroad, MASA or some other long-term program. If the recipient immigrates to Israel by a certain age and stays for at least three years, then all or part of the loan would be forgiven.
According to Nefesh B’Nefesh, each North American immigrant adds significant financial benefit to the Israeli economy, so this works from a macro-economic perspective. If the recipient becomes a full-time Jewish communal professional, then there should be some loan forgiveness as well.
Another idea would be to help offset tuition costs by focusing on Jewish communal endowments.
More money is being generated now by Jewish foundations and endowments than by annual federation campaigns — a sign that our community needs to create new strategies to finance major initiatives in Jewish life.
The truth about Jewish endowments is that they are managed very conservatively by outside professional money managers and not performing as well as they could.
Even a modest 2 percent increase in annual returns, from the federation endowments of more than $14 billion, would produce about $300 million annually that could be earmarked for Jewish education — especially if the 2 percent were generated from safe, Israel-based investments.
Here’s one example: Solar fields in Israel are financed 80 percent by Israel’s very conservative commercial banks and 20 percent from equity investors, who enjoy a roughly 9 percent annual average return for 20 years, linked to inflation and backed by the Israeli government. That is more than double the return on an Israel Bond.
Imagine a federation endowment investing money in Israeli infrastructure projects — in, say, their Partnership 2000 communities in Israel — and using the boost in profits to lower the cost of Jewish education back home. These truly would be worthwhile investments because they promote social and environmental benefits in Israel while generating enough funds to support Jewish education in North America.
The State of Israel is also creating a sovereign wealth fund to invest wisely the huge windfalls it expects from its recently discovered natural gas deposits — an estimated $125 billion over the next two decades. While Israeli education, defense, renewables and society certainly should be the major recipients of the profits here, asking Israel to set aside 10 percent of the funds, or $12.5 billion, to finance affordable Jewish education around the world would radically transform lives and strengthen Israel by strengthening Jewish peoplehood.
(Yosef I. Abramowitz, the winner of a Covenant Award for Excellence in Jewish Education, lives in Jerusalem and works with two Israeli solar companies. He can be reached on Twitter at @kaptainsunshine. This is part of a series of essays on Jewish day schools being published by the Sustainable Stories project of PEJE, the Partnership for Excellence in Jewish Education.)
[Editor's Note: This address was given by Noa Sattath on behalf of Anat Hoffman, director of the Israel Religious Action Center and chairwoman of Women of the Wall, on Saturday night at the URJ Biennial.]
Anat lost her voice. Despite all the remedies and chicken soup suggested by many in this conference, she can’t speak. So here is a useful tip from her: If you’re destined to lose your voice sometime in the course of a 25-year struggle for equality, don’t lose it in the Knesset, don’t lose it in a prison cell, don’t lose it in the supreme court. Lose it when you’re approaching victory, lose it at the 2013 URJ Biennial in San Diego.
After flying all over the US, hugging and kissing so many people, a virus succeeded in silencing me tonight. But what a divine coincidence to teach me and all of us that I can be silenced, but everyone here can speak for me.
Everyone here knows there is more than one way to be Jewish. No one here is willing to be ignored on the struggle for this right in Israel. None of us here are willing to give up on the vision of Israel’s declaration of independence as a state that ensures, “complete equality of social and political rights irrespective of religion, race, or sex.”
The video you just saw showed you the highlights of the struggle for equality at the Western Wall.
Now we are part of a team that is making history, together with Rabbi Rick Jacobs, my brother, whose reason, passion and courage make all of Israel’s cabinet ministers look up to him and my colleague and friend Rabbi Gilad Kariv, head of the Reform Movement in Israel, who is blessed by both profound ideology and superb analytic skills, and who is leading the Reform movement to a new era in religious life in Israel.
Together we are negotiating a new reality for all of us at the Wall. This is not going to be a slightly cleaned up second-rate area for the misfits. It will be the first time that the Israeli government will offer everybody a real choice at the Kotel. I know Israelis are going to get used to the flavor of choice and they are going to demand freedom of choice in all other areas of religious life, such as marriage, divorce, conversion, and education. Once you have 31 flavors, you can’t go back.
For too long, the face and character of Judaism’s holiest site has been in the image of one extreme minority, but we are changing that. It is time that Israelis got to know some other faces of Judaism, like that of our very own Rabbi Miri Gold, or that of Ariella Finklestein, our Orthodox, 14-year-old client who personally sued the bus driver who told her to go the back of the bus in Beit Shemesh.
We must plant our values the same way we have planted trees. This will require all of us to get our hands dirty since there is no other way to plant.
Our success at the Kotel must become the engine pulling the train of religious pluralism. The next car is the end of gender segregation in Israel and the exclusion of women. We bring you news of great achievements, but we also know that the rights of women in Israel are under attack, and it is falling on us to provide the response
Other cars in the train are freedom of choice in marriage, in conversion, and the full equality and recognition of our rabbis and institutions.
I am standing on the shoulders of our incredible institutions and of the generosity of IRAC supporters over the years. I am standing on the shoulders of women and men who care about Israel, about Judaism, and about equality. I felt this throughout the Biennial. Many asked me what they can do.
First, you have to make a decision. Are you going to wring your hands about Israel or are you going roll up your sleeves and get to work? You can’t do both at the same time.
Let’s roll up our sleeves. I’m asking you to do four things:
- Read! At least once a week read something about Israel that is not about security.
- Use your financial support to create an Israel that reflects your values.
- Visit Israel, and make your visits count. Make time for the Israel Religious Action Center. (Less Roman ruins and more freedom rides.)
- Refuse. Refuse to choose between your liberal values and your commitment to Israel. Let your frustration motivate you to action. Action is our middle name
I want to thank the Women of Reform Judaism, led by their remarkable executive director Rabbi Marla J. Feldman, for their years of friendship, support, and solidarity. I am honored to accept this award with the full awareness that I am propped up on the shoulders of so many you here today. I am literally speechless from all the love you have shown here during this amazing Biennial. Thank you!
[The portion of Saturday night's program honoring Anat begins at 11:58.]
Directors of museums located at the sites of former Nazi death camps are protesting a Polish prosecutor’s office decision not to initiate an investigation into the phrase “Polish death camps.”Click here for the rest of the article...
Dozens of rabbis will shave their heads at the Reform movement’s rabbinical conference in Chicago, in memory of 8-year-old ‘Superman Sam,” who died of leukemia this weekend.Click here for the rest of the article...
[Editor's note: This d'var was given by Rabbi Jonah Pesner, Senior Vice President of the URJ, on Friday night at the URJ Biennial.]
This week we read parashat va-y’chi, taken from the opening verse: “And Jacob lived in Egypt for seventeen years. Va-y’chi, meaning “and he lived” is an ironic name, since the parasha tells the story of Jacob’s death. Nearing his end, he pleads with his son Joseph to return him to the land of his ancestors for burial. He gathers his children to surround him, that he might offer them his final, dying words. Just a few verses later, Joseph also dies, and the book of B’reishit comes to an end.
B’reishit – the book of creation, the story of God forming the universe and breathing life into the first human being ends with death. It is worthy to note, the simple vuv in Hebrew implies “and,” “but,” and “yet” all at the same time! So we read, va-y’chi – “yet he lived.” In other words, the text is signaling us, despite his approaching death; pay attention to his life.
This week we mourn the loss of another great leader, Nelson Mandela. He and Jacob had much in common. Jacob’s birth name means “heel” reflecting his persona as a trickster and imposter. Mandela was born “Rolihlahla” which means “troublemaker.” Like Jacob, Mandela would struggle under the mantle of leadership, and acquire a new name. As Jacob becomes Yisrael, Mandela became “Madiba.” the name of his clan and a symbol of his leadership.
With the deaths of Jacob and Mandela, we are reminded va-y’chi, yet he lived – and we ask: What does it mean to have lived? For life to have had meaning and purpose? Despite their heroic stature, these two men were just that: mortal humans (like us) who lived and died.
President Obama captured this eloquently in his eulogy for Mandela:
It was precisely because he could admit to imperfection – because he could be so full of good humor, even mischief, despite the heavy burdens he carried – that we loved him so. He was not a bust made of marble; he was a man of flesh and blood – a son and husband, a father and a friend. That is why we learned so much from him; that is why we can learn from him still. For nothing he achieved was inevitable. In the arc of his life, we see a man who earned his place in history through struggle and shrewdness; persistence and faith. He tells us what’s possible not just in the pages of dusty history books, but in our own lives as well.
So what does this mean for us?
Recently, a friend explained why he had become more meditative and mindful, and was limiting his very successful professional work to focus more on his family. He had developed an irregular heart beat. Frightened by the strange physical sensation, he thought he might be dying. There is no better reminder of your own mortality, he said, than feeling your own heart beat.
Medical tests showed my friend that he was not in danger. Yet he was moved to change his life, that we might say – “va-y’chi” – yet he lived!
Sefer Bereishit begins with the breath of life, and ends with a final, dying breath. As we reflect on the deaths and lives of Jacob and Mandela, let us hear our own hearts beating. Let us feel our own breathing, knowing we are dying and we are living all at once. This Shabbat, let us revel in the beauty of our lives, the joys of our relationships, and the opportunity we each have to be part of the transformation of the world around us.
At his inauguration as the first democratically elected leader of South Africa, Mandela famously and courageously called for forgiveness and reconciliation. He did so not just for the sake of “nation building,” but in order to “birth a new world”! Mandela understood the classic rabbinic maxim that in every life there is an entire universe; but he also understood that when we individually lead lives of love, forgiveness, and justice, our entire world moves closer to redemption.
Mandela also said, “What counts in life is not the mere fact that we lived. It is the difference we make in the lives of others that will determine the significance of the life we lead.”
Some day, about each one of us it will be said, va-y’chi: “And yet he lived.” “And yet she lived.”
Listen to your heart beat.
It is pumping oxygen infused blood, giving your body life and your mind consciousness.
Take in ruach elohim, the divine animating source of life.
With every inhale we take, and with every exhale we share.
And when it stops…
We have lived.
NEW YORK (JTA) — In March, dozens of rabbis will shave their heads at the Reform movement’s Central Conference of American Rabbis conference in Chicago. But the 8-year-old boy whose struggle with cancer inspired the rabbis’ campaign will not be there to witness their act of solidarity.
Samuel Asher Sommer, the son of Rabbis Phyllis and Michael Sommer, died Saturday in his Chicago-area home after an 18-month battle against refractory acute myeloid leukemia.
His funeral was held Monday afternoon at Am Shalom, where Phyllis Sommer is an associate rabbi.
Phyllis Sommer had created “Superman Sam,” a blog that documented her son’s struggle. Along with a fellow Reform rabbi, she came up with the idea for the “36 Rabbis Shave For The Brave” in order to raise money for pediatric cancer research and show solidarity with Sam, who lost his hair due to chemotherapy.
In the days since Samuel’s death, rabbis have continued to join the campaign.
As of Monday, 51 rabbis, most affiliated with the Reform movement, have pledged to lose their locks. Another 11 have volunteered to help in other ways.
According to the according to the “36 Rabbis Shave For The Brave” Web page, the campaign has raised $122,808 as of Monday afternoon for the St. Baldrick’s Foundation, a 13-year-old nonprofit that raises money for pediatric cancer research.
Rabbi Charles Briskin, one of the rabbis who has pledged to shave his head and raised $4,339, said he signed on because he is friends with the Sommers and “felt propelled by the cause.”
“Following Sammy’s death, there’s just greater resolve to get more people on board to prevent more [families] from having to endure this,” he said. “Our goal is to keep the momentum going as we make our way to Chicago.”
The idea for “36 Rabbis Shave for the Brave” came in late October, according to Rabbi Rebecca Einstein Schorr, who is coordinating the campaign with another rabbi.
“Phyllis was talking about St. Baldrick’s and said maybe it was time for her to shave her head,” she said. “I said, ‘That’s a wonderful idea, and we could probably get some of our colleagues to do it.’ ”
The two set a goal of $180,000 and 36 rabbis. “Then we said, we should all do it together at the CCAR conference since it’s in Chicago, and Sammy can come, too,” Schorr said.
Schorr said the shaving is to show solidarity with children undergoing chemotherapy and to raise awareness.
“It’s important for us to educate people about the lack of funding for pediatric cancer research, and we believe that as rabbis we have power we can leverage when we see a need in society,” she said.
According to the St. Baldrick’s Foundation website, just 4 percent of money earmarked for cancer research in the United States focuses on pediatric cancers.
As a result, the foundation said, physicians must struggle to apply to children protocols that have been developed for adult patients. Treatment that works for adults can be toxic for children because they are so much smaller.
Rob Schiller, a well-known American film and television director and president of R&B JAAMZS, Inc., has been appointed to the board of directors for the Jewish National Fund
(PRWeb November 20, 2013)
Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2013/11/prweb11352027.htm
At least twenty-eight countries have received the message of "555 Days of Prayer to Save America." Founding and planning partner of "Save America Gathering," "One Church //...
(PRWeb November 20, 2013)
Read the full story at http://www.prweb.com/releases/2013/11/prweb11350754.htm
On Friday, Rabbi Ilana Schwartzman, Rabbi Eleanor Steinman, NFTY Communications Vice President Aaron Heft and rabbinic student Jeremy Gimbel joined RAC Deputy Director, Rachel Laser for “A RAC: LGBT Equality and Workplace Protection” at the URJ Biennial.
Rabbi Steinman kicked off the session with an introduction of the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) and the major issues faced by the LGBT community. Rabbi Steinman urged the session participants to think about the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender individuals that go beyond the issue of same-sex marriage. What happens when a woman is legally married but is fired for having a picture of her wife on her desk at work? Members of the LGBT community deserve to be recognized and protected equally under the law.
A text study, led by Rabbi Schwartzman, focused on the many texts that encourage the Reform Movement to continue to push on towards LBGT equality. Rabbi Schwartzman was an active proponent of a non-discrimination state bill in Utah called the Housing and Employment Antidiscrimination Amendment. This past March, Rabbi Schwartzman worked with the RAC and Equality Utah to build support for the legislation and submitted testimony at the Utah Senate Workforce and Economic Development Committee hearing, comparing this issue with the Jewish plight of discrimination.
Following the text study, Rachel Laser presented a thorough description of ENDA, from its inception in 1994 to its current status, having passed a historic Senate floor vote this November. Laser delved into the RAC’s campaign for ENDA, describing the URJ’s long standing support for the rights of the LGBT community, and explaining the different aspects of the RAC’s ENDA campaign, including garnering the support of unique religious leaders and organizing the Faiths Calling Congressional call-in day. Aaron Heft then spoke about the role of NFTY in our continued efforts to secure equality for LGBT individuals.
To close this powerful session, Jeremy Gimbel led the participants in singing the words of Pirke Avot 2:16,“lo alecha hamlacha ligmor – You are not required to complete the work, nor are you free to ignore it.”
A state judge has denied a request by the Forward seeking the name of a mohel who is believed to have infected a baby with herpes during a ritual circumcision.Click here for the rest of the article...
Ukraine’s chief rabbi is advocating the formation of a national unity government to resolve the country’s political crisis over its relationship with the European Union and Russia.Click here for the rest of the article...