Good News for Jewish Candidates After US Midterm Elections, Jerusalem Post

The following is an edited segment of a Jerusalem Post article reporting on a survey of the American Jewish community’s vote in the recent mid-term election:

“Beyond being a good night for Democrats, who took control of the House of Representatives and won several governorships, Tuesday had good news for Jewish candidates. According to a spokesman for the Jewish Democratic Council of America (JDCA), all 23 Jewish incumbents who ran for reelection – 21 of them Democrats – won. In addition, eight Jewish candidates entered the House, two Jews won governorships (in Illinois and Colorado), and one, Jacky Rosen, won her Senate race in Nevada. All are Democrats. The next House of Representatives will have a total of 28 Jews, and there will be nine Jewish senators….According to Jim Gerstein of GBA Strategies, a Democrat-aligned pollster commissioned by the liberal Israel lobby J Street, Jewish voters’ strong preference for Democrats was driven by their disapproval of President Donald Trump, and their blaming him, specifically, for helping influence the shooting at a Pittsburgh synagogue two weeks ago. Seventy-five percent of Jewish voters disapprove of Trump, versus 25% who approve, and 72% of Jewish voters hold Trump very or somewhat responsible for the Pittsburgh shooting, in which 11 people died, a GBA poll found….J Street PAC, the political action committee affiliated with the liberal Mideast policy group, spent $5 million in midterm contributions and saw 128 of its 167 endorsees – all Democrats – win their races, including 22 new House members and 14 of 17 senators they endorsed. Forty-seven of the 58 candidates endorsed by the JDCA won. ‘We like to think of it as pulling the emergency brake on the out-of-control administration and president we’ve been under for the past two years,’ Jeremy Ben-Ami, J Street’s president, said on the conference call. He noted that more than half of the House’s incoming class is endorsed by J Street.”

For complete article – click https://bit.ly/2DApd0q

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Celebrating a small Torah scroll saved 80 years ago on Kristallnacht – November 9, 1938

On November 9, 1938, Rabbi Max and Ruth Nussbaum and their five year-old daughter Hannah stayed behind locked apartment doors in their upper-middle class Berlin neighborhood while Nazi-backed rioters wreaked havoc on the Jewish communities of Germany, Austria and the Sudentenland. The Nussbaums could not have known that anti-Semitic rioters were setting fire to more than 1400 synagogues that destroyed totally 267.

Nor could they have imagined that the Germans threw hundreds of Torah scrolls into bonfires and murdered hundreds of Jews while Nazi authorities stood passively by. That night Nazi authorities arrested 30,000 Jewish men and incarcerated them in concentration camps. Jewish homes, hospitals, schools, and 7000 Jewish businesses were destroyed or damaged.

That day came to be known as “Kristallnacht” (“The Night of Broken Glass”) and is considered the beginning of the “Final Solution,” the planned murder of 6 million Jews between 1938 and 1945.

Rabbi Max and Ruth Nussbaum learned in the middle of the night on November 9, 1938 that their own synagogue, The Free Synagogue of Berlin, was on fire. Max walked the short distance from his apartment to the building, entered through a back door, went to the Sanctuary Ark, and took into his arms the smallest of the congregation’s Torah scrolls. He and Ruth kept it safe in their apartment until they escaped Berlin in the middle of the night in 1940 just ahead of the Gestapo coming to arrest them.

Rabbi Stephen S. Wise, a leader of American Jewry and a Reform Rabbi, had sought and secured positions in synagogues throughout the United States for a group of young German liberal rabbinic students and rabbis (including Max), but Max and Ruth felt they had to remain in Berlin as long as possible to offer comfort to their congregants and to assist them if they could in attaining visas. They already had visas for themselves but were unable to attain visas for little Hannah and Ruth’s parents.

Once they learned that the Gestapo was coming to arrest them, Ruth and Max took the scroll, left hurriedly in the middle of the night and escaped to Amsterdam. From there they made passage to New York, were interviewed by the New York Times about what was happening to the Jews of Germany, and traveled to Washington, D.C. to meet with President Roosevelt’s Secretary of the Treasury, Henry (Hans) Morgenthau, who arranged visas for Hannah and Ruth’s parents.

Max and Ruth traveled from Washington, D.C. to Muskogee, Oklahoma where Rabbi Wise had secured a position for the young German Rabbi who had yet to learn English. Hannah and Ruth’s parents joined them in Oklahoma six months later.

In 1942, Temple Israel of Hollywood sought a new rabbi and Max, now a fluent English speaker, was encouraged to apply. He traveled to Hollywood, fell in love with Los Angeles and our community that was founded in 1927 by early heads of Hollywood film studios. He was offered the position and served with distinction until his death in 1974.

Max sent for Ruth, Hannah and Ruth’s parents and they brought with them the small Torah that Max had snatched from his burning Berlin synagogue ark on Kristallnacht. That Torah scroll ever since has occupied a special place in our ark at Temple Israel.

The small Torah’s calligraphy is exquisitely beautiful graced with tiny crowns on many of its letters. It is about 150 years old.

The scroll suffered some damage from the fire in the synagogue on Kristallnacht. A sofer (scribe) told me years ago when I asked him to restore it that any effort to do so would likely ruin the parchment. So, he advised that we leave the scroll as it is. In its current state, though much of it is in tact and readable, tradition considers it to be lo kasher (not permitted for use during services) as every Torah scroll must be in perfect condition during worship.

Like the broken tablets that Moses shattered at the incident of the Golden Calf but which rested in the Tabernacle beside the whole second tablets that Moses brought down from Sinai, so too does our iconic small “broken” German scroll occupy an honored place in our synagogue’s sanctuary ark along side our other scrolls.

Our community affectionately refers to this small Torah as “The Nussbaum Scroll.” We use it every Shabbat in a Torah passing ceremony from grandparent to parent to child (l’dor va-dor – generation to generation) before the young bar/bat mitzvah carries the Torah through the congregation.

There is a mystical tradition that teaches that every Jew that touches a scroll, a part of his/her soul attaches to it and the scroll becomes a part of that Jew’s soul. I imagine as the young bar/bat mitzvah carries the scroll through the congregation that thousands of Jewish souls accompany the child on his/her Jewish journey and links that bar/bat mitzvah not only to Torah but to all of Jewish history and the Jewish people.

The breastplate on the Nussbaum scroll is made of silver and gold and was forged by the Possin Silversmith foundary of mid-19th century Germany. The finials are late 19th century German. Both are part of the Briskin Family Fine Judaica Collection of Temple Israel of Hollywood.

On this 80th anniversary of Kristallnacht, we at Temple Israel celebrate the memory of Rabbi Max and Ruth Nussbaum (z’l) who led our community from 1942 to 1974. We mourn the losses of Kristallnacht and the six million. And we mourn this yer the deaths of the eleven Jews who died al kiddush ha-Shem (Sanctifying God’s name) at The Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh two weeks ago.

Zichronam livracha – May the memory of the righteous be for us and the entire Jewish people a blessing.

 

 

America is still America!

As we move towards the mid-term elections next week, I think of all the dark moments in our nation’s experience these past months; the Muslim ban, the Charlottesville violence and murder of a young woman, the national abandonment of Puerto Rico after its devastating hurricane, the separation of children at the border from their parents, the fixation on political refugees fleeing for their lives from Honduras and hoping for political asylum based on a well-founded fear of persecution should they return to their home country, the rise in anti-Semitism, the murder of eleven Jews at prayer in a Pittsburgh synagogue by a white anti-Semitic nationalist, the threatened pipe-bombings of many of our nation’s leaders and Democratic activists, the murder of two African Americans by a white nationalist, the relentless dog-whistling to racism and hate, the personal attack on political enemies and the media, and on and on.

And I think of all the lightas well, people from every ethnic, religious, and national background coming together in solidarity to affirm our common humanity.

As much as I worry about the direction of our country and the cowardice of too many political leaders in Washington to speak out morally against all the outrageous statements and actions by the President, I also take heart that so many good people are running for office at every level of city, state and national government and that our nation has an opportunity to make a correction in its path, to renew the checks and balances built into the Constitution, and release the better angels of our national character.

In the Babylonian Talmud (Shabbat 54b) it is written:

Whoever can stop…the people of his/her city from sinning, but does not…is held responsible for the sins of the people of his/her city. If s/he can stop a whole world from sinning, and does not, he/she is held responsible for the sins of the whole world.”

Rabbi Abraham Heschel expressed the moral spirit of Judaism when he said that “some are guilty; all are responsible.”

We are responsible whether we’ve been critics of this government’s policies or not. That’s why it is so important on Tuesday that every adult American vote. Polls suggest historically that young people do not vote in mid-term elections. If you have a son or a daughter, a grandson or a granddaughter, a niece or nephew, cousin or friend, employee or colleague that is young – please tell them to vote next Tuesday and remind them that recent history has proven that elections can be  decided by only dozens of people.

I am hoping for a turnaround election and a resulting statement to the nation and world that America is still America, that the light of morality shines through in our political process!

 

Solidarity at the Westwood Federal Building

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti at Westwood Rally last evening

The violent speech, the praise of politicians who body slam journalists, the not so subtle dog-whistles that stir up racist hatred, Trumps’ appeal to white nationalism, his intolerance of people of color, his slander of those seeking political asylum because of their well-founded fear of persecution should they return to their nation of origin, his accusation that Middle East terrorists have inserted themselves into a wave of frightened women, children, and men refugees walking hundreds of miles to escape harm, his attack on the “other”, his calling every political critic “evil,” his attacking journalists as fake-news gatherers – all of it must stop and we must be the agents of change to stop it.

We American Jews thought we were safe from violence, but we now know if we didn’t before that the Jewish people remain the eternal scapegoats for haters because we affirm that every human being is created b’tzelem Elohim and is imbued with infinite value and worth.

We Jews have become the targets yet again of the haters’ projected venom and rage. Old world anti-Semitism showed its ugly head at Shabbat morning services in Pittsburgh and we mourn the loss of eleven Jews who wanted nothing other than to pray in peace and celebrate Shabbat.

As every speaker last night at the Westwood Federal Building Rally noted including Mayor Garcetti, all of us are in the same boat, America’s strength is our diversity, and Muslim, Christian, Jew, Latino, Black, women, men, and children are brothers and sisters. We may pray out of our respective religious traditions, but we’re all Americans.

It’s time to assert ourselves as we’ve not felt we’ve had to do before, to use the power of the vote on November 6 and take back the US government from those politicians who refuse to exercise moral courage and stand up to Trump and his minions.

It’s time to return decency to our nation and integrity to our democratic processes and institutions, to say no to voter suppression, and to support those candidates who will restore checks and balances that define our constitutional democracy.

The following analysis by Marty Kaplan in the Forward connects the dots between Donald Trump’s relentless tweets and rhetoric and the Pittsburgh atrocity –

The Straight Line From 5,000 Trump Lies To 11 Jews Murdered In Pittsburgh” – By Marty Kaplan October 27, 2018 – the Forward –

Go to – https://bit.ly/2PuTenJ

 

 

 

Letter from Temple Israel Leadership on the tragic events in Pittsburgh Shabbat morning

Our hearts break at the murders of eleven worshippers at Shabbat services at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh and of the shooting of the police sent to protect them this morning. We express our horror and grief at this hate-filled act that strikes at the heart of our American tradition of compassion and respect for the dignity of every human being.

The killer used the Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS) that historically has reached out to immigrants and settled refugees in the United States as his foil for his anti-Semitic outrage, the worst attack on Jews in American Jewish history, but we express our pride in the good work that HIAS has done over the past century in fulfilling Emma Lazarus’s expression of our national commitment to welcome the tempest tossed to our country.

We want to assure our community that we have tightened security and had the LAPD in addition to our own security with us this morning at services. Our first obligation is to the safety and security of our community.

Recent events in our country have challenged our democratic values and institutions and our nation as a force of love and goodness in the world. Our community at Temple Israel is committed to combatting this destructive negativity and indecency. Please know that all of us are here for you as a source of comfort and moral support.

We will convene together at 9:30 am tomorrow at Temple Israel for prayer and solidarity if you would like to join us.

We send our condolences to the families of the victims and hopes for the complete healing of those injured.

May the souls of those lost today be bound up in the bonds of eternal life.

Signed,

Senior Staff of Temple Israel of Hollywood and our Board President

 

The Big Lie

“Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it.” Adolf Hitler

“The most brilliant propagandist technique will yield no success unless one fundamental principle is borne in mind constantly – it must confine itself to a few points and repeat them over and over.” Joseph Goebbels

“Naturally the common people don’t want war. But after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, or a fascist dictatorship, or a parliament or a communist dictatorship. All you have to do is to tell them that they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger, It works the same in any country.” Hermann Goering

“See, in my line of work you got to keep repeating things over and over and over again for the truth to sink in, to kind of catapult the propaganda.” George W. Bush

“Lies can run a mile before the truth gets its track shoes on.” Reverend Al Sharpton’s mother

If you wish to establish a lie, mix a little truth with it.” Zohar, Numbers 161a

“Even a lie is a psychic fact.” Carl Jung

 

“As ever, Watson – You see but you do not observe!”

This week’s Torah portion Vayera reminds me of Sherlock Holmes’ famous line: “As ever, Watson – you see but you do not observe!”

Most of us are like Watson. At first sight, we see the surface of things, a person or object’s size, shape, color, line, texture, and form.

Jewish mysticism teaches, however, that nothing is as it appears – every physical thing is a reflection of something deeper, more complex, wondrous, and enriched than we imagine.

Jacob Neusner, the scholar of early rabbinic Judaism, understood this when he described the Mishnah, the 2nd century strictly rational and ordered law code, as an ideal spiritual architecture underpinning the physical world. Every letter, word, phrase, and law, he said, is a reflection of the seen and the unseen, the explicit and implicit.

This week’s Torah portion, Vayera, is about that kind of seeing. It embraces especially what God sees and what God wants us to see and then emulate; the physical and metaphysical, the material and intuitive, the moral and ethical underpinnings in the world.

The three-letter Hebrew root of the parashah’s title Vayera (“And God appeared…”) is resh-aleph-heh. This Hebrew root appears eleven times in a variety of forms (Genesis 18:1-22:24). In nine of the eleven, the root is used in connection with God and angels.

Abraham greets three God-like humans who ‘appear’ near his tent.

God goes to Sodom and ‘sees’ whether the people have turned from their evil.

Lot ‘saw’ two of God’s messengers.

Sarah ‘saw’ Hagar’s son Ishmael and feared he would receive the inheritance in place of her son Isaac.

Hagar ‘saw’ a well of water that would save her son Ishmael from dehydration and death.

Abraham and Isaac ‘saw’ the cloud hovering over a mountain called Moriah, the place where there would be both divine and human ‘vision.’

In nine of the eleven occurrences, there’s divine revelation. These chapters in Genesis point to our patriarch Abraham as the grand ‘seer’ of his generation.

In every one of these spiritual encounters, we sense a spiritual awakening. When the heart opens in this way and the soul ‘sees,’ we’re drawn more deeply into what being human means and what God requires of us, “To do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with Your God.” (Micah 6:8)

What does Abraham see and do? The answer is the central moral message in this Torah portion and sets the stage for Jewish moral activism from that point forward.

Abraham circumcised himself and while recovering in pain he saw the three strangers approach. He got up and ran to welcome them despite his personal discomfort in an act of selfless hospitality.

Tradition understands these three men as angels sent for a three specific purposes. The first was to comfort Abraham as he recovered from circumcision. The second was to tell Abraham that God was about to destroy the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah. And the third informed Abraham that in her old age his wife Sarah would give birth to a child that would carry forward the family line.

Abraham is regarded as the first Jew not only because he sensed God’s unity and responded to God’s call, but because he personified the morality of the three angels’ mission.

He welcomed strangers into his tent with chesed (loving-kindness).

Upon learning that the two cities of Sodom and Gomorrah would be destroyed, he challenged God to behave according to God’s own divine standards of justice and save the innocent.

The story enumerates values that run through Jewish tradition; to welcome strangers, to care for the sick, to raise up the next generation, and to fight for justice.

Though Vayera is particular to Jews, its message is universal.

Shabbat Shalom.

 

 

 

Weeping and alone in a field

Chayei Sarah is a monumental Torah portion in the Book of Genesis (23:1-25:18) that establishes Hebron as one of our people’s holiest cities in the land of Israel.

The sidra begins by telling the story of Abraham buying burial space in the Cave of Machpelah for his wife Sarah. That site would become holy to Judaism and Islam through the generations, and the city of Hebron, which is overwhelmingly Arab with a small enclave of right-wing Jewish religious extremist settlers, is a hot spot between Israel and the Palestinians today.

The parashah also tells the moving story of Isaac’s and Rebekah’s meeting, betrothal and marriage arranged by Abraham through his servant Eliezer who his master sent to find a wife for his son Isaac.

For the first time in Jewish history we witness the passing of the baton of inheritance and leadership from one generation to the next.

I offer here a poetic Midrash on Isaac’s and Rebekah’s encounter leading to their marriage. It is based loosely on the Torah story as amplified by rabbinic Midrash and is a revisiting of a poem I wrote a few years ago and posted on this blog.

I love this story because Isaac’s and Rebecca’s meeting is simple and sweet. It offers a the hope of what’s possible between individuals and tribes that make up the Jewish people today and the peoples of the Middle East who suffer too much polarization, suspicion, distrust, and hatred of each other.

Imagine the scene – Isaac is alone meditating in an open field and Rebecca and Abraham’s servant Eliezer approach from afar in a camel caravan. I shift voices in the poem between Isaac, Rebekah and Eliezer. I begin with Isaac:

“To be alone amidst shifting wheat and rock, / Beneath the sun and stirred-up clouds / Hearing singing angels audible in the wind.

I’ve secluded myself as my father did / When he went out alone leaving all he knew / For a place he’d never been that God would show him.

I can do nothing else / Because Father broke my heart and crushed my soul / When he betrayed me by nearly offering me to his God / Stealing me away one morning before my mother Sarah awoke.

When my mother learned her soul passed from the world./ O how she loved me! / And filled me up with laughter, love and tears. / Bereft now I’m desolate in this field.

Compassionate One – / Do You hear me from this arid place / Filled with snakes and beasts, / Polluted by hatred and vengeance?”

As if in response from afar / A caravan appears of people and camels, / Led by Eliezer, Abraham’s servant, / With a young girl.

Isaac, burdened in grief neither looks nor sees. / He sits still lasuach basadeh / Meditating and weeping / Beneath the afternoon sun / And swirling clouds / And singing angels / Whom he cannot hear.

Rebekah asks: / “Who is that man crying alone in the field?” / Eliezer says: / “He is my master Isaac, your intended one, / Whose seed you will carry and make the future.”

“Vatipol min hagamal – And she fell from her camel” / Shocked and afraid onto the hard ground.

She veiled her face and bowed her head. / And Rebekah and Isaac entered Sarah’s tent, / And Rebekah comforted him.”

Poem by Rabbi John L. Rosove based on traditional Midrashim