This is the new New Year Song “Reset” with lyrics by Abby Pogrebin and music
by Noah Aronson. I hope you find it uplifting and joyful and perfect for
Best wishes for a meaningful 5780
We need our rabbis to speak to us as honestly, eloquently, and inspirationally as they can during this season. Doing so, however, is not easy. I hope that all congregants appreciate their rabbi’s efforts whether or not they agree with what their rabbis say.
If your rabbi inspires you to think and reflect deeply – if he/she elevates your spirit and helps you to see the world as if with new eyes – if your rabbi touches you and you feel renewed as a consequence of his/her words – tell them so and offer them your gratitude. They will appreciate that simple gesture more than you can know. They write for you and a good/great sermon is a veritable gift offered from heart to the heart and soul to soul.
For my complete Times of Israel Blog – see https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/be-kind-to-your-rabbi/
Given the contentious nature of public debate in this pre-election year and in light of the presidency of Donald Trump, my own synagogue and the American Reform Jewish movement have been challenged about the nature of our speech and activism.
What ought we to be saying and when should we be saying it especially during the High Holiday season? Should we as a synagogue community speak collectively about the great challenges confronting our nation in the area of health care, economic justice, criminal justice reform, the poor, women’s and LGBTQ rights, racism, immigration, religious minorities, civil rights, climate change, war, and peace?
For my complete blog at the Times of Israel – see https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/the-torah-is-political-rabbis-ought-to-be-too/
The Jungian therapist Robert Johnson wrote in a little book called “We”:
“Here we are confronted with a paradox that baffles us, yet we should not be surprised to discover that romantic love is connected with spiritual aspiration – even with our religious instinct – for we already know that courtly love, at its very beginning so many centuries ago, was understood as spiritual love, a way of loving that spiritualized the knight with his lady, and raised them above the ordinary and the gross to an experience of another world, an experience of soul and spirit.”
I discuss the medieval myth of Tristan and Iseult the Fair in the context of this week’s Torah portion Bamidbar, the Biblical prophet Hosea, and the Festival of Shavuot that begins this Saturday night as similar expressions of spiritual love.
To read my d’var Torah, you can find it on my blog at the Times of Israel at https://blogs.timesofisrael.com/tristan-and-iseult-courtly-love-and-covenant/
Volunteers preparing Christmas Dinner for 1070 people
For the past 33 years, my synagogue, Temple Israel of Hollywood, has served a full Christmas Dinner to the poor and homeless of Hollywood. We distributed this year toys, children’s books, hygiene products, blankets, and sox to more than 1000 people. We began the project in the mid 1980s to relieve our Christian brothers and sisters of the responsibility of helping the people in their neighborhood so they could celebrate their holyday with their communities and families.
The Hollywood United Methodist Church has graciously offered their facility at Highland and Franklin (a block north of the famed Hollywood-Highland Center and Academy Award Theater) these past 28 years. This year Temple Israel co-sponsored this effort not only with the Church but with the ILM (Intellect, Love, and Mercy) Foundation which has roots in Islam. Umar Hakim (the ILM Director) and the Reverend Cathy Cooper Ledesma (HUMC’s Senior Pastor) joined me as “siblings in faith” from the three great monotheistic traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam.
This is the largest interfaith Christmas Dinner in Los Angeles County.
Volunteers served over 100 roasted turkeys with stuffing, mashed potatoes, vegetables, cranberry sauce, and a number of desserts. Retirees, homeless, working families with young children, and other hungry and needy individuals and families came to eat and enjoy their holiday.
Our congregation (Temple Israel of Hollywood) signed a Brit Olam, “a covenant with our world,” via the Reform movement’s Religious Action Center in Washington, D.C. to address the epidemic problem of food insecurity (40 million people in America) who do not know from where and when their next meal is coming. The problem of hunger is particularly acute in the closing days of the month. The number of homeless individuals in Los Angeles (though down 4% this year due to an aggressive effort by Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti to house homeless individuals) still hovers around 45,000 people of whom 1/3 are children.
Shelter Partnership provided us with blankets, hygiene products, toys and socks. NBC Universal and Big Sunday provided toys. The Book Foundation provided 250 contemporary books for children. Big Sunday (originally a project of Temple Israel and now its own 501C3 non-profit organization serving the greater Los Angeles area 365 days a year) connected us with a number of non-profit organizations to get the word out to the community that this dinner welcomed everyone.
The chairs of this year’s effort are Temple Israel members Ilyse Pallenberg, Sophie Grossman-Sartain, and Ken Ostrove. They led nearly 300 volunteers for the past few months culminating on Christmas Day.
I was asked by the media at the event why we Jews were doing this. I told them two things; first, there is the dire challenge of hunger that we all have to address actively in projects like this and in advocating public policy efforts in local, state and national government, and second, this co-sponsored dinner is a powerful response to the toxicity and polarization that has infected America in the last several years since President Trump began his presidential campaign of hostility and division pitting one group against another to inspire fear and hate.
Good people, I said, can bridge differences, reach across divisions in class, race, ethnicity, religion, and national origins and reaffirm the oneness of humankind and the principle that we are accountable to and responsible for each other, that walls should be torn down and paths forward together be forged.
That is what we did together yesterday. One interviewer asked me if this was a reflection of the spirit of this season. I responded “yes” but also that this is what we all ought to be doing 365 days a year.
Note: The following story comes courtesy of Ulpan Or, Jerusalem.
[GULAG – an acronym from Russian “Glavnoe Upravlenie ispravitel’no-trudovykh LAGerei – “Chief Administration of Corrective Labor Camps”.]
Between the years 1935 and 1956, Mordechai Chanzin spent overall 21 years in Soviet prisons and camps. He selflessly devoted himself to preserving Judaism behind the Iron Curtain.
Among his many experiences in the Soviet GULAGs, there was one story that he would tell again and again:
As the Siberian winter deepened, Chanukah came, and a group of 18 Jewish prisoners of the Gulag, gathered for a short meeting.
The topic: how to obtain and secretly light a Chanukah menorah – חנוכיה (Khanukiyah).
One prisoner took upon himself to supply margarine to be used as fuel.
Some frayed threads from standard-issue camp garb would suffice as wicks.
Even small cups to hold the margarine were procured from somewhere.
All this was of course against camp regulations, and the Jewish prisoners understood the implication of their actions should they be caught.
Mordechai Chanzin was the eldest of the group of 18 men, and was therefore honored to usher in the holiday by lighting of the first candle.
In the dead of night, in a small garden shed, the hardy crew crowded around their makeshift menorah and listened to Mordechai’s emotional voice as he recited the first blessings, tears trickling down his cheeks.
Mordechai and his comrades gazed silently at the small yellow light, each one recalling Chanukah in his parents’ home.
Suddenly a loud crash of the door opening shattered the men’s reverie. Camp guards rushed through the doorway and flooded the cramped space.
The Jewish prisoners were grabbed by the guards and shoved through the camp. When they reached a small dank cell, they were ordered to pile inside.
A trial was about to begin.
The first to be brought to trial was Mordechai. The small courtroom consisted of the judge’s desk and a bench for the defendant.
Mordechai solemnly awaited the verdict.
“This is an act of treason,” said the prosecutor. “By lighting the candles, you intended to signal to enemy forces. The penalty for this is death.”
The judge regarded the man standing in front of him.
“Do you have anything to say for yourself?”
Mordechai’s heart pounded in his chest as he approached the judge. “Is it just me, or is it the rest of the group too?”
“All of you,” enunciated the judge dryly.
Mordechai was devastated.
Whatever indifference he was able to afford until then vanished in the terror-stricken realization that his fellow brothers would be led to their deaths. He blamed himself.
Reb Mordechai burst into bitter tears, and for a few minutes he stood in front of the judge, sobbing uncontrollably.
“Come close,” said the judge.
Mordechai took a step towards the judge’s desk. Softly, the judge asked about his relatives, their means of livelihood and other personal details. Mordechai answered the judge’s inquires.
“What do you have to say for yourself?” the judge pressed on.
Mordechai answered the judge, “We are Jews, and we lit the candles that night to observe the holiday of Chanukah.”
“You lit Chanukah candles? You lit Chanukah candles?” the judge repeated to himself, clearly unsettled.
Then the judge called to the two guards present in the courtroom and asked them to stand outside. When the door clicked closed, the judge turned his attention back to Mordechai.
“If you lit Chanukah candles, let me demonstrate the right way to light them.”
Mordechai watched the judge light a small lamp.
Picking up the incriminating documents with trembling hands, the judge slid the first one off and held it to the flame.
The paper caught fire and disappeared quickly in an orange blaze and a few wisps of smoke.
As if he were afraid to delay lest he change his mind, the judge worked quickly through the pile, saying:
“You see? This is how you light Chanukah candles.”
Soon there was nothing remaining of the pile.
Finished, the judge scooped up the scattered ashes, strode over to the window and tossed them into the Siberian wind.
Sitting down, the judge reached for the buzzer on his table and summoned the guards.
“Take this group of 18 men,” the judge barked, “and separate them, making sure that it would be impossible for them to see one another. There’s no point in killing them; they are not worth even one bullet.”
The guards marched out.
Mordechai was again left alone with the judge.
The latter faced Reb Mordechai and said in a trembling voice:
“I too am a Jew, and I beg you to make sure that the future generations of our people will know to light the Chanukah candles.”
Indeed, the Temple Menorah was taken into exile by the Romans, but its eternal light has been kept by our people lighting the Chanukah Menorah everywhere in the world, even in the GULAGs.
This week Joseph finds himself imprisoned on the false charge of trying to seduce Potifar’s wife. Already known as a dream interpreter, Joseph is called from the dungeons to interpret Pharaoh’s inscrutable dreams and convinces Pharaoh that God has blessed him with far-sighted wisdom and success. Pharaoh elevates Joseph as the kingdom’s chief overseer, second in power only to Pharaoh.
In his position Joseph deftly manages the realm and when the years of famine arrive as predicted word spreads that Egypt has stockpiled an overabundance of grain and that surrounding peoples can seek sustenance from the throne.
Suffering the effects of the famine along with everyone else, Jacob instructs his sons to procure food for the family, lest they all die, and they appear before Joseph.
In the dramatic conclusion in next week’s parashah Joseph will reveal his identity to his brothers and explain that their sale of him served his life’s purpose, that God had sent him ahead into Egypt as a slave to save his family.
Joseph is a transitional figure between the patriarchal era in Genesis and the birth of the spiritual nation of Israel in Exodus. As such, he was the first court Jew in history. He understood Egyptian culture and society. He spoke the language, dressed as a native, took an Egyptian name, married an Egyptian woman, and sired children, the first Hebrew children to be born in the Diaspora.
Despite his acculturation, Joseph did not become an Egyptian nor did he forsake his ancestral faith. He is the prototype of a politically powerful leader who assures Jewish survival.
Fast forward to the second century B.C.E. For 200 years Greek culture had spread throughout the lands of the Mediterranean. Jews were attracted to Greek population centers, the abstract sciences, humanism, philosophy, and commerce.
By the time of the Maccabees (165 BCE), Jews living in the land of Israel had divided into three groups; traditionalists living in villages who followed the priests and observed Jewish law; radical Hellenists living in the cities who saw no advantage in remaining Jewish, who named their children using Greek names, spoke Greek, stopped circumcising their sons, ceased celebrating the Hagim and Shabbat, and rejected kashrut; and the moderately Hellenized Jews who lived as Greeks but maintained their Jewish cultural identity.
When finally the radical Hellenizers conspired with the Greek King Antiochus IV to introduce a pantheon of gods into the Jerusalem Temple, including the detested pig, moderately Hellenized Jews were shocked and rose up to fight alongside the traditionalists and save Judaism and the Jewish people from destruction.
For Joseph, Jewish survival meant remembering who he was as an Israelite in exile. For the Maccabees and their moderate Jewish allies, it meant war in the ancestral homeland.
In these opening decades of the 21st century, we liberal American Jews are confronted with a serious challenge. Of the 5.5 million American Jews, 2 million identify with the liberal non-orthodox religious streams, 800,000 with the orthodox and the rest as “just Jewish,” marginal at best.
The 2013 Pew Study of the American Jewish community makes it clear that if current trends continue in 30 years liberal Jews will diminish by 30% to 1.4 million total, assuming that our current 1.7 children per family birthrate continues and we don’t reverse the loss of 75% of the children born to intermarriages who do not identify as Jews. The current intermarriage rate is 70% in non-Orthodox communities. The orthodox birthrate is less than 5 children per family, meaning that in 30 years orthodox Jews will double their numbers.
The declining birthrate in the liberal American Jewish community is a threat to our survival. We’ll need to increase our birthrate, create a more compelling liberal faith that attracts converts, intermarried families, LGBTQ Jews, and retains all who struggle with faith and claim to be atheists but feel culturally, ethically and ancestrally Jewish. We will have to educate everyone better than we do in Jewish history, literature, tradition, hebrew, and thought.
Hanukah and Miketz remind us that Jewish survival isn’t a given, that the State of Israel and American liberal Jewry need each other to thrive and depend upon each other to survive.
Shabbat shalom and Hag Hanukah sameach!
This is a Hanukah gift that I recommend. See endorsements below and the more than 20 five star endorsements posted on Amazon.
To purchase the book, go to Amazon.com.
“Why Judaism Matters – Letters of a Liberal Rabbi to His Children and the Millennial Generation” with an Afterword by Daniel and David Rosove is a collection of thirteen letters offering a common sense guide and roadmap for a new generation of young men and women who find Jewish orthodoxy, tradition, issues, and beliefs impenetrable in 21st Century society. It is published by Jewish Lights Publishing, a division of Turner Publishing.
I have addressed this book of letters to millennials specifically, but this volume is also for their parents and grandparents, the younger generation of college-age Jews, high school students, and non-Jewish partners and spouses of Jews who are interested in the possibility of living meaningful and vibrant Jewish lives.
I invite you to purchase this book and multiples of it and share it with those you love.
“John Rosove does what so many of us have struggled to do, and does it brilliantly: He makes the case for liberal Judaism to his children. As Rosove shows, liberal Judaism is choice-driven, messy, and always evolving, “traditional” in some ways and “radical” in others. It is also optimistic, spiritual, and progressive in both personal and political ethics. Without avoiding the hard stuff, such as intermarriage and Israel, Rabbi Rosove weaves all of these strands together to show the deep satisfactions of living and believing as a liberal Jew. All serious Jews, liberal or otherwise, should read this book.” – Rabbi Eric H. Yoffie, President Emeritus of the Union for Reform Judaism and a regular columnist for the Israeli daily newspaper Haaretz.
“Rabbi John Rosove gets it. Here is a religious leader not afraid to tell it like it is, encapsulating for his audience the profound disaffection so many young Jews feel towards their heritage. But instead of letting them walk away, he makes a powerful case for the relevance of tradition in creating meaningful lives. In our technology-saturated, attention-absorbing age, Rosove offers religion-as-reprieve, his fresh vision of a thoroughly modern, politically-engaged and inclusive Judaism.” – Danielle Berrin, former columnist and cover-story journalist for the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, commentator on CNN and MSNBC, and published work for The Guardian, British Esquire, and The Atlantic.
“Rabbi John Rosove addresses his intellectual and well-reasoned investigation of faith to his own sons, which sets this book apart for its candor and its ability to penetrate not only the mind but also the heart.” – Matthew Weiner, creator of the AMC series Mad Men, the current Amazon Prime series The Romanoffs, and was a writer and producer on the HBO drama series The Sopranos. Matthew has earned nine Primetime Emmy Awards.
“Rabbi Rosove’s letters to his sons are full of Talmudic tales and practical parables, ancient wisdom with modern relevance, spiritual comfort, and intellectual provocation. Whether his subject is faith, love, intermarriage, success, Jewish continuity or the creation of a meaningful legacy, you’ll find yourself quoting lines from this beautiful book long after you’ve reached its final blessing.” – Letty Cottin Pogrebin, writer, speaker, social justice activist, author of eleven books including Debora, Gold, and Me: Being Female & Jewish in America, a founding editor of Ms. Magazine, a regular columnist for Moment Magazine, and a contributor of op-eds in the New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, Philadelphia Inquirer, Toronto Star, and LA Times, among other publications.
“Rabbi John Rosove has given a gift to all of us who care about engaging the next generation in Jewish life. The letters to his sons are really love-letters from countless voices of Jewish wisdom across history to all those young people who are seeking purpose in their lives. From wrestling with God, to advocating for peace and justice in Israel and at home, and living a life of purpose, this book is a compelling case for the joy of being Jewish.” – Rabbi Jonah Pesner, Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism in Washington, D.C.
“If you’re a fellow Reform millennial, give yourself the gift of John’s insights. This book is written in a breezy, gentle, readable style that is welcoming without losing sharp insight. It was so enjoyable and refreshing to read and persuasive without ever being pushy. Rosove managed to do what only a truly worthy slice of kugel or chance viewing of Fiddler has done for me; reactivate my sense of wonder and gratitude about being Jewish. I’m a huge fan of WJM.” – Jen Spyra, staff comedy writer on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert (CBS), former senior writer for the Onion, actress, and stand-up comedian. Jen’s writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal, The New York Daily News, and The Daily Beast, and has been featured by The Laugh Factory Chicago’s Best Standup Show Case.
“Rabbi Rosove has written a wonderful book, a love letter to his children, and through them, to all our children. Prodigiously knowledgeable, exceedingly wise, and refreshingly honest, Rabbi Rosove has described why Judaism Matters. It should serve as a touching testament of faith, spanning the generations for generations to come.” – Rabbi Ammiel Hirsch, Senior Rabbi of Stephen Wise Free Synagogue in NYC, former Executive Director of the Association of Reform Zionists of America-World Union for Progressive Judaism, author of One People, Two Worlds: A Reform rabbi and an Orthodox rabbi explore the issues that divide them with Rabbi Yaakov Yosef Reinman.
“Rabbi Rosove has written a book of the utmost importance for our time. It is an imperative read for all those who struggle with the changing and evolving attitudes towards belonging, behavior and belief. His analysis, stemming from deeply personal contemplation and decades of rabbinic experience, offers clear yet sophisticated approaches to tackling the challenges facing this generation and those to come. This book offers a treasure of wisdom through the lens of Jewish texts – both ancient and modern – which help to frame life’s major issues taking the reader from the particular to the universal. Israel is one of the most complicated of issues and he bridges the divide between Israel’s critics and staunch supporters and moves beyond the conversation of crisis for the millennial generation.” – Rabbi Joshua Weinberg, President of the Association of Reform Zionists of America
“John Rosove’s letters to his sons based on his life, philosophy, and rabbinic work address what it means to be a liberal and ethical Jew and a lover of Israel in an era when none are automatic. He writes in an unassuming personal style steeped in traditional texts as he confronts conflicts of faith and objectivity, Zionist pride and loving criticism of the Jewish state, traditional observance and religious innovation. He is never gratuitous and invites his readers into his family conversation because what he says is applicable to us all.” – Susan Freudenheim, Executive Director of Jewish World Watch, journalist, former managing Editor of the Los Angeles Jewish Journal, and a former editor at the Los Angeles Times.
The following are my farewell sermons after serving Temple Israel of Hollywood for 30 years. This is my last High Holiday season before my retirement at the end of June, 2019. These are highly personal sermons, but they reflect the greater themes and challenges that Judaism presents us during the High Holidays, and were the best personal reflections on a forty-year rabbinate and thirty years at my home congregation.
For all TIOH Rabbis’ Sermons in 2018, go to
https://www.tioh.org/worship/rabbis/clergystudy These include sermons by Rabbi John Rosove, Rabbi Michelle Missaghieh, and Rabbi Jocee Hudson
The following are the sermons I delivered, the final High Holiday sermons I am ever likely to deliver:
Rosh Hashanah 5779 – “Carrying forward the Life of Our People”
Video Direct Link – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cqcY1nwo0tc
Kol Nidre 5779 – “What I Wish for You”
Video Direct Link – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IPHP_ui4YQ4
Yom Kippur Yizkor 5779 – “Midrash on the Death of Moses”