Shanah tovah and gm’ar chatimah tovah. It is wonderful to be here together to celebrate Yom Kippur.
How many of you are feeling a sense of joy at this moment? Maybe a strange question to ask on Yom Kippur when many of us will be in services all day, not eating or drinking, focused on what we did wrong and how to atone.
Before we look at that question more closely, I want to share a story. When I was a kid, I remember Rabbi Stern, our community’s rabbi, telling this story during a sermon one High Holiday season. I have looked all over and cannot find a source for it, nor have my friends and colleagues been able to find one either. So I offer it as a mistaken memory or an Ira original, but one I hope will resonate with you as it did with me.
Shanah tovah and G’mar chatima tovah.
I’ve been watching a show on Netflix called Elementary. The main character is named Sherlock Holmes and he is a detective- consulting for the New York Police department helping them solve difficult unsolvable crimes. He left is native London, because, in this series, Sherlock Holmes is a heroin addict. He spends significant parts of the show dealing with his addiction. Sherlock regularly attends Narcotics Anonymous meeting where he, like all the other participants, stands up and says “Hello, my name is Sherlock and I am an addict.”
It is wonderful to be here to celebrate the beginning of the Jewish New Year with you all.
We are here now with an awareness of the passing of time and the changing of seasons. There is another kind of awareness that I would like to discuss with you tonight. An awareness of self and what are senses tell us. Let me give you a personal example. I afraid to admit that I am not the neatest person in the world. At home, I tend to make piles of things. And those piles tend to stay where I put them for quite some time. In fact, I often cease to see them. Then one day, as I get ready to have company and am cleaning up the house, I walk in the front door and try and see my house as a guest would see it. Oh boy…. A whirlwind of clean up follows as I reshuffle piles, throw things out and clean up stuff I haven’t really seen in a long time. I am guessing that while many of you are likely neater than me, you have had similar experiences, of, at one point, become aware of things that had escaped your notice for some time. Of smelling something then no longer detecting it anymore. Of hearing a sound and later noticing that even though it has been continuously audible, you hadn’t been aware of it.
There is a story told about the Baal Shem Tov, the founder of Chassidism. He would pray for many hours every day. His disciples, who had long concluded their own prayers, would form a circle around him to listen to the melody of his prayers and feast their eyes on the spectacle of a soul soaring in meditative attachment to its Maker. It was an unspoken rule among them that no one would leave until the Baal Shem Tov concluded his prayers.
One day, a great fatigue and hunger befell them. One by one, they slipped home for a bite and a few moments rest, certain that their rebbe’s prayers would continue for several hours more. But when they returned, they found that he had finished praying while they were gone.
This weekend we hold our Welcome Back IJC service. We are blessed to kick off the new IJC season with a celebration of two wonderful events, the birth of Benny Rozas in June and the wedding of Alex Licht to Stefano D'Orilia in July.
Shanah tovah and welcome to all.
Last night we spoke a bit about sense and awareness. Today I want to talk about seeing: How we perceive the world around us. More importantly, what the means for what we do and the kind of people we are.
For example, in his book “The Upside of Irrationality?” written by Dr. Dan Ariely, a Israeli born, psychologist and behavioral economist, he establishes through experimentation that we value our own ideas and creations more than those of other people. We are willing to pay more for them and value them far above their “objective” value. One example he gives is that of cake mixes. When they were first sold all one had to do was add water. How much more convenient could it get? And yet people did not buy them. It turns out consumers did not want to serve someone else’s cake and call it their own. The companies adapted. Now a cake mix requires us to add not just water, but also eggs and oil. That little additional effort on our part, enables most of us to see the cake that comes from the mix as something we made and be comfortable serving it as the work of our hands. How we perceive something makes all the difference to us.
In recent days, the Israeli government led by Benjamin Netanyahu made two decisions that are of concern to Progressive Jews in Israel and around the globe. While at the IJC we do not take sides in political issues, I am bringing this to your attention because it has an impact on us as liberal Jews, on our rights as members of the Jewish people and on the reliability of the Government of Israel as a partner of liberal Jews in Israel and across the globe.
No Equal Prayer Space at Western Wall
The first decision, was to cancel the agreement to create an egalitarian prayer space at the Kotel, the Western Wall. This compromise solution took four years to negotiate and was approved by all the main stakeholders. Since the agreement was reached, the current government has not implemented it and now has completely annulled it. In so doing, they caved in to pressure from their ultra-orthodox coalition partners and in so doing are denying Liberal Jews everywhere the ability to celebrate our Judaism in the manner we believe in at one of Judaism’s most treasured sites.
Israel to only recognize Orthodox-dominated Chief Rabbinate conversions
The second decision was to advance a bill through the Israeli Parliament that would require the State of Israel to recognize only conversions completed under the auspices of the Haredi, (i.e. ultra-) Orthodox-dominated Chief Rabbinate. This is a problem not only for Progressive/Liberal and Conservative Jews, but also for Orthodox Jews who convert using rabbinic courts that are not under the auspices of the Chief Rabbinate. This is a clear power grab by the Chief Rabbinate to further extend their monopoly on power as it relates to issues of personal status. As you can imagine, this could have a direct impact on everyone in the Diaspora who has converted to Judaism, regardless of whether they converted Progressive, Orthodox or Conservative or with any other Jewish movement.
Your Voice Counts!
Israel is a complicated place with many dimensions. Many of us have different views about the State of Israel, the current government, the relationship between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, the Occupied Territories, etc. Positive or negative or somewhere in between, we, as Jews, have a connection to Israel. In the past newsletter, I invited everyone to find a way to engage. As Progressive Jews, what is happening in Israel now concerns us.
Please join me in making your voice heard. Express your opinion to the Israeli Embassy (email@example.com)and the Government of Israel (For example, the Office of the Prime Minister can be reached via:http://www.pmo.gov.il/English/PrimeMinister/Pages/ContactUs.aspx). And you can follow developments at www.jta.org. Your voice counts.
June 30, 2017
Rabbi Ira Goldberg