Union for Reform Judaism Member Congregation


We Mourn Together as People of the Faith

Emanuel AME Church, Charleston, SC. Site of the racially motivated killing of 9. Photo: Matt Drobnik Flickr CC

Emanuel AME Church, Charleston, SC. Site of the racially motivated killing of 9. Photo: Matt Drobnik Flickr CC

Late last week, as you know, nine members of the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, were brutally murdered as they sat together with their Pastor in the fellowship of Bible study. They were doing what we at our temple do as Jews all the time, and what faith communities of all denominations do as well. They were doing what we as Americans take for granted in the our religious conscience and traditions.

This is being treated as a hate crime by the Charleston Police and the Federal Government. In addition, it seems to have struck a chord of particular revulsion for us as Americans. I think the reason for this is that we take for granted the right to free exercise of our religious conscience and traditions. And while we are staunchly committed to the legal separation of church and state, fundamentally America is a deeply religious country. The idea of people being brutally attacked when they are at prayer, or engaged in related religious activity, strikes at something very deep within the American psyche. In so many ways we seem to have lost our way in this country. This attack shines a light on the serious issues that we don’t seem to be able to address appropriately: gun control, effective diagnosis and treatment of those with mental and emotional disorders, an effective way to curb the effects of right-wing extremism within our country. These are obviously discussions for another time. But we can’t let our minds wander far from them, lest we forget.

For right now, however, our hearts go out to those who mourn. There are parents, spouses, children, siblings left behind, whose lives will never be the same. There are friends, fellow church members and colleagues, who are changed now forever.

In light of this I would like to make a suggestion to you. On a number of occasions when Jews have been the victims of attacks, I personally have received expressions of sympathy from Christian friends of mine. And the Jewish community as a whole has received expressions of sympathy from many around the world. I suggest that we at Union Temple, and our children as well, send expressions of sympathy to the members of the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston. (To give full credit, my colleague from Troy, NY, Rabbi Deborah Gordon, posted a note about this gesture on the part of her congregation.) If I may suggest, we might consider including one or more of the our own traditional phrases of comfort that I am certain will resonate with the members of that church:

“May the Almighty comfort you amongst those who mourn.”
“May the memory of the righteous be for a blessing.”
“May the souls of your loved ones be bound up in the bond of eternal life.”

The address of the church is:
Emanuel AME Church
110 Calhoun Street
Charleston, SC 24901
Or, email: emanuel@emanuelamechurch.org.

I will be sending a short letter of condolence on temple stationery, and I hope that as many of you as possible will communicate with the people in Charleston. We cannot bring back their loved ones, but we can let them know that there are people of faith around the country who care about them.

If you would like to read a bit about the very interesting history of this church, which is known fondly to the community as “Mother Emanuel,” you can find it at: http://www.emanuelamechurch.org/churchhistory.php .

Many thanks to all.

PJ Library Grant to UT Renewed

Union Temple’s participation in the fantastic and popular PJ Library program will be continuing through 2017 due to a generous grant from the UJA-WRJ YES Fund. Library mails free, high-quality Jewish children’s literature and music to families with young children across the continent on a monthly basis. PJ Library is a program of the Harold Grinspoon Foundation, made possible through partnerships with philanthropists and local Jewish organizations.


A Friend in Need is a Friend Indeed

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin

Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin

We all know the expression “a friend in need is a friend indeed.” Here is a bit of a different slant.

This past Sunday Steve and I attended a small gathering at the home of a rabbinic colleague in New Jersey for a send-off, if you will, for one of our colleagues who is loved and respected by all of us, Rabbi Jeffrey K. Salkin, who, along with his wife Sheila, will be moving to Hollywood, FL this August. At that time he will assume the pulpit of Temple Solel. Rabbi Salkin, of course, came to teach us at Union Temple last year during one of our Fourth Friday programs on his midrash on Abraham and his generation from his book, The Gods Are Broken.”

As he thanked us all for being there and for our ongoing friendship over the years, Rabbi Salkin brought us a little teaching from the Rambam, Moses Maimonides, about friendship. He reminded us that the Rambam outlined different kinds of friendship. Rabbi Salkin pointed to two in particular. One is the chaver l’davar – the utilitarian friend, if you will – the friend who befriends you because he/she needs something from you. The other is the chaver lid’agah – the stalwart friend; the true friend – the friend who is there for you in good times and in bad, and sincerely cares about you and your life. When Rabbi Salkin looked around the room at those of us assembled there, he remarked that all of us, both individually and as a k’vutzah, a group, have been for him all through the years as chaverim lid’agah – true and stalwart friends.

In our Torah portion this week, we find the trouble-maker Korach trying to foment rebellion against Moses. He befriends Datan and Aviram, and other members of the Israelite community, for the purpose of enlisting their help in usurping the divinely-appointed authority and leadership of Moses and Aaron. Korach was a chaver l’davar – a friend who needed something, and manipulated other people to get it. As we read in last week’s portion, however, Joshua is a shining example of a chaver lid’agah – a stalwart friend to Moses, and helped him in the task that had been placed upon him by trying to buoy the Israelites’ spirits and personal courage. In the end, because of their guile and motivations of self-aggrandizement, Korach and his rebels destroyed themselves, and a number of other people along with them. But Joshua and his comrades ultimately marched into the Promised Land to realize the destiny that God had appointed for our people.

I’m glad to say that those of us in the Rabbinic community are never completely removed from one another, even by miles. Steve and I will have the pleasure of continuing to study with Rabbi Salkin – Jeff – this July at the Hartman Institute, where he also has been a “regular” over many years. And of course, we will see him at meetings and conventions, and whenever he comes back to New York for any reason (since he grew up on Long Island, and has family here). And, as we all know, the Internet brings ALL of us closer, virtually every minute of every day! But at this moment I am grateful that he took those few moments to remind us, his circle of friends and study partners (in Jewish circles, often one and the same), about the aspirations of true friendship within the Jewish tradition.

So what kind of friends do we want to be, and indeed, ought we aspire to be: chaverim l’davar, friends only when we need something from someone, or chaverim lid’agah, friends who will be there for each other, no matter what? It is an important question for all of us.

Ongoing Engagement

"Return of the Spies From the Land of Promise" by Gustave Doré

“Return of the Spies From the Land of Promise” by Gustave Doré

The central story of our Torah portion, Lech Lecha, the story of the scouts, is familiar to most of us. Moses was charged with assigning twelve scouts, one from each of the tribes, to go ahead of the people and scout out the land of Canaan, in order to prepare the people for the conquest as they made their way up through the desert. When the scouts returned, two of them, Joshua bin Nun and Caleb ben Jefunneh, were confident that the Israelites could move on and take control of the land. The other ten, however, brought back reports of doom: “There were giants in the land, and we looked like grasshoppers in our own eyes, and thus we must have looked in theirs!”

Those of us who spent last year studying the Book of Deuteronomy in the Shabbat Morning Hevre will remember that for the Deuteronomic author, this astounding show of cowardice was the worst transgression that the Israelites committed during their entire forty-year trek through the Wilderness; worse even than the building of the Golden Calf. And indeed, according to the Deuteronomist, it was this incident – the incident of the scouts – that ultimately kept an entire generation, including Moses himself, from entering the Promised Land, Eretz Yisrael. It was their lack of faith that did them in – faith in themselves, in God, in their destiny as a people, and their destiny tied up with that land. Joshua and Caleb described the land in all its fullness: “The land that we traversed and scouted is an exceedingly good land. If the Eternal is pleased with us, the Eternal will bring us into that land – eretz zavat chalav ud’vash – a land flowing with milk and honey. . . Have no fear, then, of the people of the country, for the Eternal God is with us. . . .”

Col. David (Mickey) Marcus

Col. David (Mickey) Marcus

This week we at Union Temple take particular note of the yahrzeit (according to the civil calendar) of one of our own, Colonel David “Mickey” Marcus, known to the fighting forces of the Hagganah whom he helped to unify as Aluf Michael Stone. This level of leadership, “aluf,” had been known only to a few before him in the history of our people. One was Judah the Maccabee, over 2,000 years earlier, as he led the assault against the army of Antiochus V in 165 BCE. The other was Joshua himself, as he led the Israelites across the Jordan to settle the land that God had promised to our people for all time.

jView from Israel across the Jordan River into Jordan. Photo: Denise Waxman

View from Israel across the Jordan River into Jordan. Photo: Denise Waxman

Those of us who traveled to Israel together last month stood on the bank of the Jordan River at Qasr ‘el Yahud, the spot which tradition identifies as the crossing point of Joshua and the Israelites. We also climbed down to the very foundations of the ancient Temple in Jerusalem, as we recalled the heroism of Judah the Maccabee and his liberating army. And indeed, we visited the town of Abu Ghosh, where Mickey Marcus was tragically killed by friendly fire, the night before the Jewish forces he led made the final push into Jerusalem.

Our history and roots in the Land of Israel are deep and long. It is a land for which we have fought hard and often. Much Jewish blood was spilled there, and no matter how literally or non-literally we may look at the texts of the Bible, we know clearly that this land has occupied a place of centrality within Jewish existence for some 3,000 years.

I believe in the centrality of the land and experience of Israel to the entire Jewish world, wherever we may live on this earth. Whether we speak Hebrew, or English, or French, or Russian, or Ge’ez; whatever our political opinions may be; whatever our religious persuasion may be; to think of Jewish existence without Israel as a central focus is, in my understanding of Jewish history and tradition, UNthinkable.

As you know, the Shalom Hartman Institute in Jerusalem, with which I am involved, has constructed its programming the past few years around the theme “Engaging Israel.” For the Deuteronomic author, the inclination to stay away, the refusal to engage, was the greatest transgression of all. And indeed, all but two of them did not survive to participate in the building of our people’s future. Whatever our position today: socially, politically, or otherwise, it is incumbent upon us at the very least to engage – in study, in discussion, in cultural familiarity, and on the ground, visiting Israel itself. It is integrally a part of us, and God willing will remain so in perpetuity. And that is up to us.

UT Receives Grant from the I*Express and Coalition of Innovating Congregations

Jewish Education Project LogoUnion Temple received funding for Religious School Camp/Retreat programs for the 2015-2015 and 2015-2016 school year from I*Express a program of the Coalition of Innovating Congregations which is funded from UJA Federation and The Jewish Education Project. I*Express is designed to propel congregations forward in their practice of engaging children and their families in meaningful Jewish learning. Congregations are provided with full access to the blueprints of a variety of new learning models, along with the process to generate change, funding, and consultation and peer group support. I*Express is designed for congregations who are interested in and have demonstrated a readiness to experiment—within a matter of months—with a high impact, non-classroom-only model of Jewish learning. Please visit The Jewish Education Project for more information.

The WZO Elections: Great News!

I thought you would like to see the email that I received yesterday from Rabbi Joshua Weinberg and Rabbi Bennett Miller, Director and President of the Association of Reform Zionists of America, ARZA. Our hard work has paid off. Now, for the REAL work of raising our voice in Israel even louder. To all of you who voted in this election, and who encouraged your friends and family to vote as well, RAV TODOT – abundant thanks. There is much to do, but now we are in a better position to do it.

Shalom Haverim,

ARZA logo

ARZA logo

The results of the World Zionist Congress elections are in, and we are proud to report that ARZA was the clear winner. We secured 56 seats out of a possible 145 – almost 40% of the U.S. delegation, and as many seats as the next two slates combined. Thank you for your passion, your commitment, and your work.

This is a great victory for Progressive Judaism in Israel, and for all those who care about this important cause. We are now able to join with others who share our vision and continue to work for the causes and issues about which we care so deeply.

We campaigned on important issues such as religious freedom, gender equality, and a two state solution. Now we can proudly say that our delegation—the largest of the U.S.—will come together in October in Jerusalem to express our passion and involvement as well as our concern for the future. Our success in these elections comes at a critical moment for current events in Israel.

Brief Analysis:
We, the Reform and Reconstructionist movements, received almost 40% of the votes which means that liberal Judaism will hold a solid majority in the World Zionist Congress this October.

At the Congress, American Jews will have the opportunity to express their strong feelings about the issues close to our hearts, and then work to affect change in those areas. We will be one step closer to making Israel the Jewish state that we know it can and should be.

As a reminder, the results of this election help determine our influence in Israel’s national institutions, the World Zionist Organization, the Jewish Agency for Israel and the Jewish National Fund. Our team, led by the leadership of ARZENU (ARZA’s umbrella organization of worldwide Reform Zionists), will now begin the process of negotiating with Israeli political parties and determining our positions based on the power that you, our voters, provided.

We would like to extend our heartfelt gratitude to all those who voted and who worked to get out the vote. We would like to also thank the superb lay and staff team led by Michael Laufer, Philip Meltzer and Rabbi Karen Fox as well as our campaign manager, Ilana Kaplan. Our sincere appreciation goes out to the ARZA staff, and the lay leaders who demonstrated dedication and perseverance through this long and often arduous campaign.

This campaign would not have been successful without the leadership of the Reform Movement, led by Rabbis Rick Jacobs, Aaron Panken, Steve Fox, Danny Freelander, Jonah Pesner and Rabbi Deborah Waxman of the Reconstructionist Movement. Our leaders in Israel—Rabbi Gilad Kariv, Anat Hoffman, Rabbi Noa Sattat, Yaron Shavit and Reuven Marko, as well as Rabbi Larry Englander and Dalya Levy of ARZENU—worked tirelessly to bring messages of importance to our movement stateside.

Of course, we would not be anywhere without our congregational leadership. We cannot thank enough the hundreds of rabbis, cantors, educators, youth directors, executive directors, administrators, and congregational election teams for all that you did to galvanize your members, families, and friends to come together at this important moment. Every vote made a difference, and we were honored and humbled by your efforts.

This campaign was indeed an investment in Israel’s future, and we offer our deepest thanks to the hundreds of investors and donors who saw with us the need to run a robust and well-funded campaign. We met our goal and were able to maintain fiscal responsibility, and are happy to report that your efforts and investments paid off. Below you will find the breakdown of votes, and we will be posting on our website further analysis of what this means and how it has changed since the last election.

As the results have now come in, let us rejoice by proclaiming, “This year in Jerusalem!”

Shalom and Todah,

Rabbi Josh Weinberg and Rabbi Bennett Miller
Election of American Delegates to the 37th World Zionist Congress