American World War II Master Sargent Roddie Edmonds was captured and became a Prisoner of War held by the Nazis along with 200 Jewish soldiers in 1944-1945. As their leader (among 1275 others), Roddie saved all of their lives by refusing to follow Nazi orders to separate Jews from non-Jews which would have meant certain death for his Jewish soldiers. He never spoke to his son about what he did.
After Roddie’s death, his son researched his father’s story resulting in this 14-minute moving and inspiring documentary that includes the testimony of many of the men (now very elderly) under Roddie’s command who survived due to his courage and heroism.
Roddie Edmonds has been honored as one of the “Righteous Among the Nations” by Yad Vashem in Jerusalem.
I’ve known Chris Bubser for 20 years as a friend, and when she told me that she was running for Congress I thought – ‘Now THAT is a great idea!’
Chris is smart, engaged, honest, kind, and an effective leader. She cares deeply about people, the environment, healthcare for all, and human rights, and she has a vision for what our democracy ought to be, inclusive, compassionate, and just.
Though Chris decided to run for Congress before this awful virus emerged, the devastation that it has wrought strengthened her resolve to flip a district to Democratic that’s been Republican for decades. See the second link below for an analysis of the district’s demography and why Chris has a good chance of success in her campaign.
Chris has been endorsed by Planned Parenthood, the Sierra Club, the California League of Conservation Voters, the Inland Empire Central Labor Council, the Coalition for Humane Immigration Rights, and the National Women’s Political Caucus.
Please take a few minutes time to read these two pieces. If you agree with me that Chris would be value-added in the House of Representatives please consider contributing to Chris’ candidacy in any way you can. Go to ChrisBubser.com.
Meet Chris Bubser, Democratic Candidate for Congress, CA 08
Chris Bubser is well-position to flip CA 08 from Red to Blue
Photo – Me at Camp Alonim, Brandeis Camp Institute – 1972
In my early 20s I worked as a horseback riding instructor at a Jewish summer camp outside Los Angeles located on an undeveloped 3000-acre property of farmland and rustic terrain resembling Israel. One day, a two year-old unbroken stallion was donated to the camp. The director of the barn staff, a crusty old cowboy named Charlie who spoke with a strong hair-lip, asked me if I’d like “to break” the horse. Eager for a new challenge, I said yes.
Charlie told me to walk the horse slowly around a large open field for an hour or two daily to get the horse used to carrying a rider, and he showed me how to use a hackamore, a headgear with a hard rope noseband that puts pressure on the horse’s face, nose, and chin to assist in controlling the animal.
One day, after I thought I had a measure of control, I decided to trot the horse. I gave him a gentle kick, but the horse took off at full speed galloping towards the middle of the camp filled with children. With all my strength I sought to slow him down and redirect him away from the kids, but it was clear to me that I had lost control. I was successful only in steering him away from the kids. Then I bailed onto a lawn and the horse, free of me, returned quickly to the barn.
As I picked myself up, I saw Charlie laughing his head off a hundred yards away. He later explained that the horse was “barn sour,” meaning that the steed only felt safe and secure in the barn. The term “barn sour,” of course, is from the rider’s perspective not that of the horse. For him, the barn was a sweet place.
I’ve thought of that day a number of times during the last two months. As our stay-at-home order enters the third month, I feel as that horse must have felt so long ago. The only time I venture away from my home is early in the morning for a long walk in my neighborhood. I live in a wooded and rural-like area of Los Angeles yet, even as I experience its beauty and quiet calm, I’m happy to return home, a sweet, comfortable, and secure place.
As a 70-year old, like many of my peers, I’m especially frightened of the virus that’s killing and sickening so many hundreds and thousands of people in America and around the world and crashing the economy. I try not to give into the fear, to the dread of how many more people will get sick and die, or to despair about how long we’ll be shuttered before a vaccine enables everyone to venture out again and resume a more normal way of living. I’m striving to take each day as it comes. I’ve established a routine that offers me a sense of order, control, and calm. And I find that I’m identifying with that strong-willed horse that I attempted to “break” unsuccessfully 50 years ago. He wasn’t really “barn-sour” at all. He was “barn-sweet” just as I am home-sweet today.
This piece was posted today on the Reform Judaism Blog (See link below). It is an edited letter from my most recent book Why Israel [and its Future] Matters – Letters of a Liberal Rabbi to his Children and the Millennial Generation with an Afterword by Daniel and David Rosove [my sons] (New Jersey: Ben Yehuda Press, 2019).
My book has been endorsed by a number of Israeli and North American Jewish leaders, including:
“Morally unflinching, intellectually courageous, Rabbi John Rosove has provided us with a desperately needed map for how to navigate the growing tensions between progressives and the state of Israel. By calling out Israel when it has done wrong and calling out its critics when they exaggerate Israel’s flaws, Rabbi Rosove echoes the ancient prophets, who criticized their people but always loved and defended them. This thoughtful and passionate book reminds us that commitment to Israel and to social justice are essential components of a healthy Jewish identity.” –Yossi Klein Halevi, Senior Fellow, Shalom Hartman Institute, Jerusalem
“Rabbi John Rosove’s letters to his sons, published in this volume, are tender and loving, but also gripping and challenging, as he grapples with modern Israel, Jewish identity, relations between Israelis and Diaspora Jews, and perhaps most significantly whether ‘you can maintain your ethical and moral values while at the same time being supporters of the Jewish state despite its flaws and imperfections.’ Rosove pulls no punches, laying out both the imperfections and the ethical choices surrounding Israel and American Jews. But he also manifests a passionate love for Israel and what one scholar has called ‘values-based aspirational Zionism.’ This book will raise as many questions for Rosove’s sons as it answers; it is a book that many of us wish we had written for our own children.” – Daniel Kurtzer, S. Daniel Abraham Professor in Middle Eastern Policy Studies, Princeton University’s Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs, Former US Ambassador to Israel (2001-2005) and US Ambassador to Egypt (1997-2001)
“What a marvelous and refreshing book! A liberal social activist and committed Reform Jew, Rosove makes the case to Jewish millennials that they need Israel as a source of pride, connection, and Jewish renewal, and Israel needs them for the liberal values that they can bring to the Zionist enterprise. In its call for “aspirational Zionism,” the book is honest and tough about Israel’s flaws, but optimistic about the country’s direction and filled with practical strategies for promoting change. This is a no-nonsense, straight-talking work, intellectually rigorous but deeply personal. And most important, it demonstrates in compelling prose to young Jews—and Jews of all ages—that Jewish life cannot be sustained without Israel at its core.” –Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, President Emeritus, Union for Reform Judaism
“A moving love letter to Israel from a rabbinic leader who refuses to give into despair, but instead recommits to building a democratic Israel that lives up to the vision of its founders.” –Rabbi Jill Jacobs, Executive Director, Terua: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights
“Rabbi Rosove’s truths reach minds and open hearts. I urge each and every individual who feels anyway connected to the Jewish people, to ponder this powerful assemblage of candid, insightful messages which address Israel as a nation, and as a notion. A must read.” -Isaac Herzog, Chairman of the Executive of the Jewish Agency for Israel
The book is available on Amazon.
An umbrella organization’s heated election shows how right-wing, bigoted assessments of ‘Jewishness’ are becoming normalized in our community.
By Mik Moore – May 11, 2020
Though the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations (COP) wields limited power, it’s leadership has a voice allegedly representing the organized American Jewish community, but that voice over the years has increasingly not represented the mainstream of the American Jewish community with respect to Israel, the occupation, and the settlement enterprise in the West Bank.
This year, the long-time right-wing, male, and hawkish Chair of the Board, Malcolm Hoenlein, retired and the Chair of the Hebrew Immigrant Aid society, Dianne Lob, a finance executive at the investment management firm AllianceBernstein, was elected COP’s new Board Chair. That election did not sit well with Morton Klein, the one-man extremist right-wing Islamophobic leader of the Zionist Organization of America, who challenged Lob’s election.
This article in 972+ presents a fair overview of the politics inside the COP that reflects the schisms within the organized American Jewish community.
Much has been said about President Trump’s weak leadership before and during this pandemic; his denial of reality and science, constant lies and disinformation, happy magical talk, lack of empathy and humility, self-aggrandizement, managerial incompetence, firing of able government officials and scientific experts, attacks on the media and intelligence community, undermining of the justice system, schoolyard bullying of political opponents, pandering to our nation’s worst instincts, and blaming others while taking no responsibility himself as President of the United States.
In contrast, I’ve been thinking much about what great leadership really is.
This May 10th marks the 80th anniversary of two pivotal events in world history. In his just-published and highly acclaimed history of Winston Churchill’s first year in office as Great Britain’s wartime Prime Minister, The Splendid and the Vile – A Saga of Churchill, Family, and Defiance during the Blitz, Erik Larson writes of that day:
“The beauty of the day [in Britain] made a shocking contrast to all that had happened since dawn, when German forces stormed into Holland, Belgium, and Luxembourg, using armor, dive-bombers, and parachute troops with overwhelming effect…. Churchill had been summoned by the King [George VI]…” that evening to become the next Prime Minister, a choice that saved England from being overwhelmed by the Nazi war machine and offered the world an historic example of great leadership in a time of existential national crisis.
Every subsequent Churchill address to Parliament and his nation began with a dire assessment of what Great Britain faced. He neither gilded the lily nor denied the truth and reality. He stated plainly the threat Britain faced before the Nazi onslaught. Churchill then explained what must be done, that sacrifice would be necessary, that much pain and suffering would be inevitable, and that the only result must be complete victory. He ended each speech with soaring eloquence and galvanized his people with a unified sense of purpose, mission, and hope.
In striking contrast with our inconsistent, self-serving, prevaricating, divisive, and hardhearted President Trump, Prime Minister Churchill carried his nation on his shoulders. His will was Britain’s will. His heart was England’s heart. His faith was the people’s faith. His strength was their strength.
For now until November, we Americans must rely upon our scientists, health care professionals, governors, mayors, Democratic Representatives and Senators in Congress and state legislators (and a few Republicans) for sane and responsible leadership. And we need to remember that the American people are inherently decent as demonstrated every day by so many caring for the sick and vulnerable.
Churchill said, “the future is unknowable but the past gives us hope.”
I hope that you and your dear ones stay well and that those who are sick heal quickly to fullness of health again.
Note: Rabbi Eric Yoffie is the Past President of the Union for Reform Judaism and writes frequently for Haaretz, Israel’s equivalent of the New York Times, where this article appeared today – May 4, 2020.
One can subscribe for his articles by simply going to ericyoffie.com, where there is a large and plainly marked subscription form on the home page.
I recommend that you subscribe. Eric’s articles are comprehensive in their scope and critically important reads, as is this one, which I quote here in its entirety with Eric’s permission.
“Our synagogues are struggling. Our virtual, on-screen Judaism is flawed, limited, and deeply unnatural. But there is a way we can emerge from the COVID-19 pandemic as stronger communities.
I miss my synagogue. I miss the rabbis and cantors. I miss the people who come to daven. I miss the schmoozing before and after Shabbat services, and the punch and cookies that we devour when the service is over. I miss the synagogue building where I have been worshipping for 37 years, and the safe and comfortable feeling that it gives me.
I am also angry beyond words that these things have been snatched away from me by COVID-19 and the current administration’s incredibly inept response to it.
And I am also deeply saddened that my synagogue — along with most synagogues in America — finds itself struggling because of this pandemic and worrying about how it will pay its bills and meet its obligations, both to its staff and its members.
And this too: I am growing tired of all the well-meaning people who keep trying to tell me how wonderful technology is; and how meaningful virtual Judaism is; and how beautiful lifecycle events can be on a computer screen; and how we are all going to emerge from this crisis better off, with new Jewish paradigms and a reordering of our Jewish reality.
And I am especially distressed that the Judaism-on-a-screen that has become our lot will not expire, as originally expected, before the coming of summer. What concerns me is that even as we begin to reopen the economy, substantial restrictions are likely to endure in our synagogues for 18 or 24 months, or even longer. What worries me is that the hoped-for vaccine will not materialize for years, and that I, as a 70-plus member of the “high risk pool,” must resign myself to a Jewish life of prayer and study mostly in a 15.6-inch cyber shul, rather than in the synagogue that I love and that I see as home.
No one should think, God forbid, that I do not support the safety measures that have been urged on us by responsible government officials. Exactly the opposite is true. I am a fervent advocate of social distancing. I wear a mask in public spaces and use disposable rubber gloves in grocery stores. And I urge everyone I know to do the same.
Nor should one imagine that I do not appreciate and admire the efforts of rabbis and synagogue leaders throughout America who have filled the vacuum created by the pandemic with a breathtakingly diverse array of online rituals, worship services, study sessions, children’s activities, and cultural projects. Most of this material, assembled with astonishing speed, is thought-provoking and high-quality. I am in awe of their efforts. In a chaotic time of adversity for American Jews, the synagogue responded immediately, working overtime and exploiting technology to offer support and connection.
Still, let us have no illusions. We need to see virtual Judaism for what it is: A temporary expedient that helps us to feel less alone. It is surely better than nothing, and for most of us, considerably better than what we expected it to be. Indeed, the comment that I heard most frequently from Jews who had just experienced their first virtual Passover Seder was “that was a lot better than I imagined it would be.”
But virtual Judaism is also flawed, limited, and deeply unnatural.
We are social beings, hungry for human contact. As the saying goes, we need both the face and the Facebook. And this means that as Jews we want communities that are grounded, concrete, and tactile. In our synagogues, we give expression to this desire in a variety of ways–with physical gestures and the locking of eyes, or with hugs and back pats.
Furthermore, technology is an imperfect instrument for embracing the spiritual. The picture is herky-jerky. Discussion is difficult. People forget to mute and unmute. Buzzing feedback disrupts our concentration. And singing together, an essential element of Jewish prayer, is simply impossible.
But technical matters aside, the real issue is that virtual Judaism is religiously flawed.
In Festival of Freedom, his book on Passover, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik discusses the seder. The seder is not simply a meal, Rabbi Soloveitchik explains; it is a se’udah. Because human beings hate to eat alone, the Jewish tradition has created the se’udah as a vehicle that gives expression to our quest for sociability, togetherness, and community-mindedness.
But the se’udah is more than that; it is also a covenantal feast, tying the Jew to God and Torah. Social and gregarious, Jews eat within the community and invite God to partake in the feast. By so doing, Jews who are normally shut up in their own small worlds coalesce into a community of God-seekers; in this way, Jews are redeemed from their historical loneliness.
And what does all of this mean for us? It means that the cyber synagogue cannot provide the full-bodied, authentic Judaism that is generated by face-to-face engagement and genuine, in-the-same-room Seders, Shabbat meals, and communal prayer. It means that covenant is a collective concept, requiring both God’s presence and tangible company in the here-and-now. It means that technology has its uses, particularly in perilous times, but it is incapable of building permanent religious community.
If you doubt this conclusion, ask around. We can tolerate anything, but for how long? While the first wave of virtual prayer produced a surge in synagogue attendance, there are already signs of video fatigue setting in. For both children and adults, there is only so much time that one can spend staring bleary-eyed into the same old screen.
And what, therefore, should we do?
First, as long as public health requires social distancing, we will, of course, diligently follow the law, for our own sakes and for the public good.
Second, we should avoid the temptation to become used to this new Jewish world. When physical attendance at synagogue becomes possible, we should quickly return, even as we follow whatever restrictions may remain in place.
Third, we should recognize that virtual offerings do offer benefits in some cases. For example, those who are confined to home because of age or illness are grateful for the variety of virtual programs now available to them, and we should make every effort to continue them.
But not everything can or should be virtual. We should beware, for example, of parents who want virtual religious school or virtual Bar and Bat Mitzvah lessons. The best way to learn Torah is to sit in the presence of a teacher of Torah. Martin Buber said long ago that the key to education is to rely not on machines but on the teacher’s personality, instincts, and intuition.
And finally, if our synagogues have been strengthened by this pandemic, it is not because of the technology they have provided or the on-line services they have developed.
In the book mentioned above, Rabbi Soloveitchik talks about the hesed community as the fundamental building block of the Jewish religious world. Hesed, according to Soloveitchik, is compulsive kindness and spontaneous sympathy, and a hesed community is built upon the dignified activism of hesed-experiencing, hesed-thinking, and hesed-questing Jews.
The synagogue, it seems to me, is the ultimate hesed community, and the COVID-19 pandemic has pushed the synagogue to do what it has always done but do it more effectively and emphatically.
And its greatest accomplishment is not online worship services but connecting Jews to each other, reaching out to the lonely and isolated, supporting the poor and shopping for the elderly, and teaching Torah to those who crave meaning.
But in the days ahead, all of this will not be enough.
As our country faces continued economic peril and psychological torment, and the synagogue itself is severely challenged by issues of finances and membership, the solution will be much more than virtual Judaism.
Synagogues will need instead to hone their hesed instincts, which have already been activated but not enough. They will need to address the practical, political, and spiritual problems of the Jewish community and America at large. They will need to reach out to the most vulnerable populations — older adults and people with disabilities — in their own congregations and in the broader community. They will need to join the efforts to extend healthcare to all Americans.
And they will need to offer Jews a sense of connection and belonging, while making the case to America that all Americans still need one another, and not just virtually.
Can the American synagogue do this, to save itself and to help America in its time of need? Yes, by understanding that we must resist the flight into solitude that the pandemic has imposed on us.
By recognizing that technology is a helpful but limited and sometimes dangerous tool in combating the isolation that we dread. And by remembering that hesed and the moral ideals of Torah are key, for they call on us neither to forsake nor accept the world, but to change it for good.”