The American Reform Movement Accepts the Jerusalem Program of the World Zionist Organization and Becomes a “Zionist Movement”

This is a monumental change after 130 years since the 1885 Pittsburgh Platform of the Central Conference of American Rabbis first said that American Reform Judaism is a religion only and anti-Zionist.

Over the course of the last century, Reform Judaism has increasingly become engaged in Zionist activity and Israel. In 1978 at the biannual meeting of the Reform movement in San Francisco, the Association of Reform Zionists of America (ARZA) was founded and for the past 41 years as served as the Zionist arm of American Reform movement representing  1.5 million Reform Jews. ARZA’s chief function has been to promote Israel in the United States and to represent the Reform movement in the national institutions of the Jewish people (i.e. The Jewish Agency for Israel, The World Zionist Organization, and the Jewish National Fund).

The Union for Reform Judaism’s decision to endorse the Jerusalem Program of the World Zionist Organization transforms the American Reform movement formally into a Zionist movement.

See this article in the Jerusalem Post about this historic turning point in American Reform – https://www.jpost.com/Opinion/Refusing-to-be-pushed-away-Reform-movement-affirms-its-zionist-core-561155

Also, an important conversation about the new chairman of the Jewish Agency, Israeli opposition leader Yitzhak “Bougie” Herzog, and the place of the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) in international Jewish affairs is tackled on “The Promised Podcast” on TLV1 Radio – listen here https://tlv1.fm/the-promised-podcast/2018/06/30/bougies-golem/.

 

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Justice Kennedy’s Timing – “Say hello to Your boy! A special Guy!”

If you are confused-disturbed-wondering why Justice Kennedy retired now – it seems as though it’s a “gift” to Trump from a grateful justice whose son lent Trump more than $1 billion from Deutsche Bank when Trump couldn’t get money from any other bank.

Our corrupt man of the day?

Here’s the opening of this article – read it and decide if you want to know more!

Deutsche also had its own problems with money laundering, particularly money laundering tied to Russia. Days after Trump became President, New York State announced a $425 million fine Deutsche Bank had agreed to pay over a $10 billion Russian money laundering scheme, one of many investigations the bank is still embroiled in.

‘To be civil or not to be civil’ – THAT is the question

My son, Daniel Rosove, engaged in back and forth tweeting conversation with Van Jones, well known author, commentator and activist.

Daniel is the Program Director of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger and has visited a number of “red states” in the American south seeking programs to fund that help the food insecure.

Daniel’s statement about the need for those of us who have felt the righteous rage in the past year to remain civil was retweeted thousands of times by Van Jones. I agree with Daniel and want to share it with you. His eloquence and clarity speak for themselves.

Retweeted by Van Jones! https://twitter.com/VanJones68/status/1012361118029897728

We are all Balaam – for better and worse!

Every year the story of Balaam and his talking donkey recalls for me one of my childhood’s favorite TV sit-coms “Mr. Ed” featuring that friendly talking Palomino horse in the barn.

More seriously, the Biblical Balaam fantasy is a profound tale of good and evil, sensitivity and hard-heartedness, faith and cynicism. Though named for Balak, the King of Moab, the Torah portion is more about Balaam, the non-Jewish sorcerer and prophet than Balak and perhaps ought to have been named for him instead.

Balak feared the Israelites as they crossed through his territory, so he sought Balaam’s prophetic assistance by paying him to curse the Israelites thereby softening them before an armed conflict. Balak must have known that the children of Israel had scored already two military victories against the Canaanites of the Negev and the Amorites in Transjordan, so hiring Balaam was an attempt to move the advantage to Balak’s favor. Only the land of Moab separated Israel from their conquest of Canaan. The King must have feared what might befall him and his kingdom.

Instead of cursing Israel Balaam offered a blessing so beautiful and powerful that it became an integral part of our morning liturgy:

Mah tovu o-ha-le-cha Yaakov – How goodly are your Tents of Jacob, Mish’ken-o-te-cha Yisrael – Your dwelling places O Israel.” (Numbers 24:5)

A number of questions come to mind about this story: What are we to make of Balaam? What is his purpose? What are his origins? Why is this story here? What is the modern relevance?

My friend, Rabbi Misha Zinko, many years ago wrote about this portion and some of his insights are worth sharing.

Balaam comes from Pethor, near the Euphrates River. In Jewish mysticism, the river is a direct link to God. Balaam’s origins suggest that he was immersed from his youth in a spiritual environment that inspired his prophetic capacities.

Balaam’s full name was Balaam ben B’orb’or can either mean “fool” or “burned.” Balaam is either a brutish fool of a man or a man burning with divine insight…or both.

The rabbis interpret “Balaam” as “b’li am” – meaning, “without a people.” He was as his name – an independent sorcerer, out for himself, unattached by tribal custom, and unconstrained by social convention.

If we evaluate Balaam based upon his blasphemous actions and defiance against God when he made the deal with Balak to curse God’s people, we have to conclude that he was a fool. But if we judge him based upon his origins near the river and his poetic words of praise for the children of Israel, then we might regard him as burning with a desire to offer a blessing to God’s people.

Rabbi Zinko suggests that considering these two aspects of the Balaam character, each of us too has within us the two traits of Balaam. On the one hand we can be blind to the wonders around us just as Balaam was blind to the angel holding a sword and standing in his way as he prepared to curse the people. On the other hand, Balaam’s spiritual antenna were so finely tuned that when it came time to curse Israel, he blessed them with God’s word instead.

How often are we blind to the wonders in front of us? How often are we insensitive to the cruelty in our communities, country and around the world? Like Balaam, however, we’re also capable of perceiving God’s presence and acting in a Godly way. When we’re aware and spiritually tuned, our eyes behold unnoticed grace, we intuit the divine within the human condition, and we act accordingly.

Having fulfilled his mission to bless Israel, Balaam returned “M’komo – to his Place.” Rabbinic tradition understands the Hebrew word Makom to be synonymous to God. The story suggests that Balaam returned to a “Place” where he drank from the river of Godly insight and glimpsed the divine destiny of the children of Israel. It was in that mind-frame that he offered words of blessing instead of cursing.

May we do the same.

Shabbat shalom.

 

Birddog nation documentary – 8 minutes of your time

birddog activism

I want you to see a moving and inspirational 8-minute documentary project conceived by two of my congregants, Chris Bubser & Sophie Sartain.

Please watch the sizzle reel. You won’t regret it. And if you are inspired by their activism as I am, please consider a charitable contribution. You won’t regret that either!

https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/birddog-nation-documentary–2

Thank you for your consideration.

The Rise of the Autocrats – A View from Capitol Hill – Congressman Adam Schiff

Congressman Adam Schiff spoke to 800 people at Temple Israel of Hollywood on Sunday, June 24 in a program hosted by “Jews United for Democracy and Justice” and “Community Advocates, Inc.” with co-hosts the Jewish Center for Justice, Valley Beth Shalom Synagogue, Temple Israel of Hollywood, Stephen S. Wise Temple, and Leo Baeck Temple.

I introduced the program and was followed by Mel Levine, a former Member of Congress from Los Angeles. Adam Schiff was interviewed by KCRW “Press Play” host Madeline Brand.

Congressman Schiff offers insight into the current state of our democracy and the threats to it posed by the Trump Administration attack on America’s democratic institutions and the press, the Russian investigation, immigration to America, and the significance of the upcoming mid-term elections.

Here is the link to the conversation – https://livestream.com/accounts/1443588/events/8259785/videos/176799010

Jeffersonian vs Jacksonian Jews – Revisiting Jewish Political Behavior in the 21st Century – by Steven Windmueller

This article (published June 20th in the Los Angeles Jewish Journal) is a must-read for any Jew wanting insight into what is going on within the American Jewish community vis a vis the American government and our democratic institutions, the nature of American society vis a vis the political left and right, America Firsters vs Internationalists, the role of Diaspora Jews towards Israel, and the needs of the Jewish community vis a vis the Jewish State.

Steve Windmueller has done us a service in writing this piece.

He is the Rabbi Alfred Gottschalk Emeritus Professor of Jewish Communal Studies at the Jack H. Skirball Campus of HUC-JIR in LA.

See http://jewishjournal.com/analysis/235393/jeffersonian-vs-jacksonian-jews-revisiting-jewish-political-behavior-21st-century/

 

Reform Rabbi in Holon Israel Challenges Bigotry of Deputy Mayor and Keynotes Holon’s Pride Parade

Pictured: Rabbi Galit Kohen-Kedem and Rabbi John Rosove in Tel Aviv

Rabbi Galit Kohen-Kedem, the Rabbi of Kehilat Kodesh v’Chol, a Reform synagogue in Holon, Israel (15 minutes drive from Tel Aviv) shared with me that Holon’s Deputy Mayor shared horrible homophobic statements on his Facebook page. In reaction, Rabbi Galit’s congregation teamed up with several LGBTQ organizations through the Israel Religious Action Center to participate in Holon’s first pride parade/demonstration demanding that the Deputy Mayor be removed from his position.

Rabbi Galit was a featured speaker at the Holon rally last night, and she translated her message for me as follows:

“I ask you today: what separates humanity from God? Our sages write in the Mishnah [Sanhedrin 4:5]: “People stamp many coins with one seal, and each is like the other.” We humans know how to create structures and molds which are all exactly the same, even identical. How boring. But today I wish to tell of the greatness of the Holy One, Blessed be God, that created a magnificently diverse humanity: “The King, King of Kings, the Holy One, Blessed be God, stamps every human being with the seal of Adam (the first human being) and not one of them is like his/her fellow. Therefore every person must say: for my sake was the world created.” The Holy one blessed be God is greater than humans, even greater than those who claim to speak in God’s Name and believe that we are born identical and are constrained under the monopoly of identity, religion and thought. So say it with me now: “For my sake was the world created!”   

I am a ‘pride’-female Reform rabbi, proud of the human diversity that constitutes us as a community, as an educational system, as a society. Kodesh V’Chol was the first synagogue community to celebrate Pride Shabbat in Holon seven years ago and we will do so again tomorrow. You are all welcome to join us.

I am proud of all the parents, friends, family members, and of this sacred crowd who choose to defend our right to choose to create our own identity, choose to build diverse families and love our partners. I am a pride-mother. I will do everything to ensure that our children can love and feel loved out of choice freedom and respect. “For my sake was the world created!” 

 

 

Today the House of Representatives passed a Farm Bill that harms food insecure Americans

Today was a difficult day for those of us who care about food insecurity in America. This afternoon, The House of Representatives passed H.R. 2 (the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018, otherwise known as the Farm Bill), which would make deep and structural cuts to how food insecure Americans access SNAP (food stamp) and other critical federal nutrition programs.

MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger is the only organization in American Jewish life devoted solely ending hunger and its causes in the United States and Israel. I have supported their work for decades.

Here are five short pieces from MAZON explaining why this disastrous, partisan and cruel piece of legislation must not become law.

PRESS RELEASE: Los Angeles, CA (June 21, 2018)

In response to the passage of H.R. 2 (the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018, otherwise known as the Farm Bill), Abby J. Leibman, President & CEO of MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, issued the following statement:

“By the slimmest of margins, the House of Representatives has failed the American people and passed the harmful and highly partisan Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 (H.R. 2).

This vote represents a stunning failure of leadership. Speaker of the House Paul Ryan (WI-1) manipulated the process with a singular goal in mind: to advance his ideological and dangerous crusade to undermine our nation’s social safety net. His tactics represent politics at its worst; his success today is to the detriment of the American people.

This bill is nothing but a demonstration of a broken process, bad policy, and poor leadership. The American people deserve better.”

ADDITION MATERIALS

  1. MAZON’s statement just about today’s vote. https://mazon.org/inside-mazon/mazon-labels-passage-of-h-r-2-a-failure-of-leadership
  2. An in-depth analysis about why the Farm Bill is so destructive. https://mazon.org/inside-mazon/so-i-hear-the-farm-bill-is-bad-but-how-bad-is-it
  3. A 30,000 ft view of why the Farm Bill in the House will hurt people. https://mazon.org/inside-mazon/2018-farm-bill-will-harm-real-people
  4. MAZON’s reaction to the Senate Bill that passed committee https://mazon.org/inside-mazon/mazon-gratified-by-senate-proposal-for-2018-farm-bill
  5. MAZON’s press release in which 1,000 rabbis and Jewish clergy signed on. https://mazon.org/inside-mazon/mazon-delivers-jewish-clergy-sign-on-letter-to-members-of-congress

 

 

 

 

When anger consumes us

I’ve been feeling pretty angry these past weeks as I watch the news and witness the harm that the Trump Administration has caused 2500+ children and their parents that crossed the border illegally.

The moral outrage that a vast majority of Americans feel has had some impact on the President and forced him to cave and sign an executive order halting the separation of families. But the policy says nothing about all those children who were sent to Michigan, New York, and fifteen other places as their parents were sent home to Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador where violence had forced these families out of fear for their lives to escape in the first place, grounds to grant political asylum in the United States.

At times I’ve not been able to think straight because I’ve been so righteously enraged.

This issue raises an important question about how we handle anger, not only as we deal with the impact that family separation is having on these children, but what we do about the anger we feel with members of our family, co-workers, and friends when we feel slighted or abused.

Do we act out physically or express ourselves verbally? When we’re calm, do we feel justified in what we said and did? Was there a positive result? Did the relationship with the person with whom we were angry get stronger and better, or did it deteriorate?

I ask these questions not only in the wake of the events of these last few weeks on our southern border, but also because this week’s Torah portion Hukat (Numbers 19:1-22:1) tells of an incident in Moses’ life when his anger had serious consequences for him and the people of Israel.

The incident took place following the death of Miriam when her brothers, Moses and Aaron, were mourning their loss of her. The people complained bitterly about their sudden lack of water. Moses and Aaron appealed to God, and God told Moses to gather the people, speak to a rock, and water would flow thus sating the people’s thirst.

Moses, however, was so overwrought with grief, weariness and rage and he was so aggravated by the people’s incessant complaining that instead of speaking to the rock he struck it twice with his rod. Water did indeed gush out in torrents, as God had promised, but the Almighty was incensed by Moses’ defiance and punished him harshly for hitting the rock instead of speaking to it:

“Because you did not trust Me enough to affirm My sanctity in the sight of the Israelite people, you shall not lead this congregation into the land that I have given them.” (Numbers 20:12)

To deny Moses the privilege of entering the Promised Land must have been devastating to a man who had dedicated his life to God and the people. We have to ask, what was it about this sin that carried such an extreme consequence.

The rabbis offer a number of ideas. Maimonides said that Moses’ bitter language didn’t become his position as leader. The Talmud says that Moses lacked sufficient faith. Nahmanides thought that Moses showed hubris in accepting credit for providing water instead of acknowledging that God provided it. And Rashi said that Moses simply lost his temper.

There are many contemporary parallels to Moses’ fury. One is “road rage” when a driver becomes so infuriated at another driver that s/he seeks vengeance. The National Highway Traffic Safety Administration estimated that “road rage” was a major factor in 40,000 total traffic deaths in 2017.

Studies of the 17,250 murders in 2016 in the United States indicate that a vast majority were committed by people who knew personally the victim.

Of course, not all anger results in physical violence. Language is a powerful weapon when used skillfully against our adversaries. The old saying “sticks and stones may break my bones but names will never hurt me” is wrong. What we say and how we say it can cause serious damage.

There are times when anger is fully justified, such as in the face of ingratitude, lies, slander, theft, mistreatment of the poor and children, cruelty, and false claims in God’s Name. (see A Code of Jewish Ethics, volume 1, by Rabbi Joseph Telushkin, pages 258-262).

Besides righteous indignation, a loose and vicious tongue can cause serious damage to marriage, friendship, and relationships. Verbal assault can inspire fear in the home, at work and in school settings, and ultimately destroy trust, the most important cohesive in friendship.

Holding onto our anger, however, also has a terrible effect. Mark Twain said that “anger is an acid that can do more harm to the vessel in which it is stored than to anything on which it is poured.” We have to have constructive ways of expressing the hurt that gives rise to anger.

If we follow Rashi’s interpretation that Moses’ sin was in his expression of anger with the people, despite his strength as a leader, as prophet, liberator, legislator, judge, and military chieftain, he lost God’s promise because he couldn’t control his rage.

Tradition asks what constitutes real strength: Eizeh hu gibor? Who is strong?” The answer: “Hakovesh et yitzro – [Not the one who has physical strength, public or familial power, but] the one who controls one’s passion.” (Mishnah, Pirkei Avot 4:1) The Vilna Gaon understood the term yitzro as “his anger.”

In this sense, Moses showed a core weakness when he lost his temper with the people. If Moses was so capable of losing control, so much the more so do each of us needs to check our rage when we feel it, be it on the highway, in the home, with our spouses and partners, among friends, at work, and with strangers. If we are able to do so, we and everyone around us will be the better for it.

Shabbat shalom!