Kol Simcha - קול שמחה

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Korach 5772: Rebellion, Holiness, and Leadership

on Friday, 22 June 2012. Posted in Sermons

I have to admit that this is a particularly surprising Torah portion for the Sabbath on which we are installing our Temple Board.  As you are now aware, Korach chronicles the greatest rebellion in the entire Torah, the palace revolt of the Levite Korach and his followers against the divinely ordained leadership of his fellow Levites, Moses and Aaron.  As so often seems to be the case, we Jews are our own worst enemies...  The result of this insurrection is disastrous, at least for the rebels.  The earth opens and Korach and all of his misguided followers are swallowed up, never to be heard from again.  By tradition, the rebellion of Korach is the absolute worst revolt of its sort in Jewish history.

Sh'lach L'cha 5772: Spies Like Us

on Friday, 15 June 2012. Posted in Sermons

On this Shabbat of Parshat Sh'lach L'cha it seems appropriate to talk about an excursion to the Land of Israel, as this story marks the first such tour of the land—it is actually called that in our portion, "latur et ha'aretz" the sedrah tells us. The tale of the 12 mraglim, the spies who scouted out the land for Moses and ended up making a bad majority report, sets up a patter of poor PR for the land of Israel that I sometimes think has lasted until today. If you will, the 10 spies who say "it's a rich land and beautiful but full of monsters" are much like the majority of the world's press, that sees Israel's economic, democratic and cultural miracles and says, "Yes, but they are terrible oppressive people." And the two good spies today, the minority report by Joshua and Caleb, the voices calling in the wilderness, tell us "it is a wonderful place and morally pretty good; it only needs God's help to rise to a new level of sanctity."

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon's Temple Pilgrimage Trip to Israel: Report #9

on Saturday, 09 June 2012.

Israel has changed so much in the 36 years that I have been coming to visit and sometimes live here, and perhaps nowhere is this more obvious than in Tel Aviv. What was once a decent-sized town with one tall building on the shores of the Mediterranean has grown into a major international city of substance and style.

Its skyline is extensive with new buildings, and the cranes continue to work adding yet more high-rises to an impressive array of high-tech towers, financial centers, media facilities, hotels, and much more. In its older areas Tel Aviv still looks the same: four-story, central European looking apartments, in white and off-white, flaking slightly in the humidity of a coastal city. Gentrification is proceeding in many areas, as you would expect in a country of astronomical real estate values.

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon's Temple Pilgrimage Trip to Israel: Report #8

on Friday, 08 June 2012.

Sometimes when traveling in Israel you have a day that encapsulates the remarkable layering of cultures and civilizations that would make this an extraordinary destination if there were no contemporary religious or political importance to the country. Today was such a day.

We traveled through history and across the country, visiting four very different and quite spectacular archeological sites and places that could each merit a separate trip in and of themselves. The fact that we have now been fully oriented to the flow of the historical narrative of Israel helps establish context, but each place has wonderful and powerful things to teach.

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon's Temple Pilgrimage Trip to Israel: Report #7

on Thursday, 07 June 2012.

I began today with a run on the land of our Kibbutz hotel, HaGoshrim, in the "far north" of Israel, close to both the Lebanese border and the Golan Heights. The area is simply lovely, green with fruit trees and vistas towards the nearby mountains, running alongside streams of fresh water covered by small bridges.

The old watchtowers at the corners of the fence are a reminder of the historic function of the kibbutz as a border protection settlement, but today this is a successful hotel, hosting groups, individuals and large parties for events. There was one going on last night, complete with tiki torches in a kind of Polynesian setting. Hawaii comes to the Galilee...

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon's Temple Pilgrimage Trip to Israel: Report #6

on Wednesday, 06 June 2012.

 

June 6, 2012

Leaving Jerusalem always feels strange to me, as though I were departing from the most important place on earth to go somewhere less significant. It's not that Israel isn't filled with fantastic places and interesting, beautiful, and compelling experiences outside of Yerushalayim.

It's just that nothing has quite the same weight and intensity for Jews, and perhaps for anyone, as this amazing place. "Im eshkacheich Yerushalayim tishkach yemini, if I forget you, Jerusalem, may I forget my right hand!" the Psalmist wrote three thousand years ago or so, and I understand. David's city still has a gravitational pull that is unlike anywhere, and leaving Jerusalem can make you feel lighter and easier, but it always also feels like you are moving away from the center of the world towards someplace less.

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon's Temple Pilgrimage Trip to Israel: Report #5

on Tuesday, 05 June 2012.

What an extraordinary day we just experienced! I have never before conducted a bar mitzvah in Israel, and the opportunity to do so at the Davidson Center, at the base of the Western Wall in Jerusalem, was a fabulous aspect of this trip for me, and I think for everyone present, Jewish or not.

It could not have been a better, more beautiful, or more powerful ceremony, both because of the amazing location and the way that everything came together so perfectly.

There are challenges associated with conducting a religious service in a national park in Israel, a clearly public space, and one in which you have essentially no control over many of the elements that go into creating a ceremony of beauty and importance. The Davidson Center is actually located just below the Western Wall Plaza, in an area known as Robinson's Arch, the remainder of a roadway that led to the Temple Mount and was destroyed on Tisha B'Av in the year 70 CE by the Romans. Actually, the section of wall here is no more or less the Kotel, the Western Wall, than the more famous section up above. It just wasn't accessible for those many centuries when Jews prayed to God at the holiest site in the world. While many b'nai mitzvah are conducted at the Kotel itself, it is a very, very public space, with many people walking through, and it has a particularly onerous issue for us. As the Rabbanut, the Orthodox rabbinate, runs the Kotel as a religious site, men and women must go to separate sections to pray. Thus, when there is a bar mitzvah there, the men are all close to the bar mitzvah boy, while the women must peer over a divider and try to participate vicariously—hardly an appropriate way for a an egalitarian religious tradition to celebrate a great simcha.

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon's Temple Pilgrimage Trip to Israel: Report #4

on Monday, 04 June 2012.

I have been to the magnificent Holocaust museum and education complex at Yad VaShem on the outskirts of Jerusalem many times, but it never fails to have an unanticipated emotional impact on me.

There are always new stories and facts to learn about the Shoah, but what is startling is the way that the power of the experience enters your consciousness in strange and surprising ways.

So it was during our visit Sunday morning to Yad Vashem, which is both a world-renowned research and educational center and a deeply affecting museum display. The pyramidal shape of the halls and the feeling of directed inevitability to the viewers' path through the museum, the varied and carefully ordered and sourced exhibits, the power of the stories told in the displays all create a coordinated pedagogical process of learning both intellectually and emotionally. You come to understand the facts of the Holocaust, the systematically directed nature of the greatest atrocity in human history and its direction against the Jews, but you also gain an appreciation for pre-War Jewry in Europe, and a growing sense of the horrific process that degraded and destroyed 6 million Jews and scarred all who remained. For both Jewish and Christian members of our group this is an unforgettable and profound experience.

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon's Temple Pilgrimage Trip to Israel: Report #3

on Saturday, 02 June 2012.

Shabbat in Jerusalem is always my favorite day of any time in Israel. Whatever else is going on in your life, or in the national life of Israel, is set aside for 25 or so beautiful, quiet, joyous hours.

Without the noise of cars and buses and trucks, with a graceful, peaceful, walking pace to life the Sabbath breathes its restoring energy into you, creating something the doesn't really exist anywhere else in the world every single week. And in the month of June, when the morning air in Yerushalayim really is as Naomi Shemer wrote the avir harim tzalul kayayin, "the mountain air crisp as wine" while the rest of the day is warm but breezy and tremendously pleasant, the experience of living a Shabbat as God and human beings intend is sweet and lovely and perfect.

This morning we walked across western Jerusalem to three synagogues for our "shul-hopping tour" of very different, thoroughly unique and quite fine Shabbat experiences. The first stop was the Aleppo synagogue, called "Adis", a small, beautiful synagogue in the Nachla'aot section of Jerusalem that preserves the customs, melodies, and traditions of the Aleppo, Syria community that moved to Israel in the early 1900's. The Aleppo Jewish community that mostly managed to avoid the worst of attempted persecution throughout its long history and came to Israel intact, along with a magnificent carved wood wall that covers the side of the Temple that faces towards the Kotel, the Western Wall. Actually, I also heard a different story from my friend Rabbi David Wilfond, who says that he hears a story that they fantastically carved wall actually was commissioned after they came to Nachla'ot from a Damascus woodcarving artist, which would have been a kind of sacrifice for the Aleppo Jews, who don't think so highly of Jews from Damascus... sound familiar?

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon's Temple Pilgrimage Trip to Israel: Report #2

on Friday, 01 June 2012.

The big headline in the paper today was the opening of Madonna's World Tour in Tel Aviv last night, which made the front page of the paper and is big news here in Israel. Amazing to think about the Material Girl now as the Kabbalah Woman, bringing pop music and her extraordinary knack for capturing the zeitgeist to little old Israel.

She called it a peace concert, hoping to bring peace to Israelis and Palestinians through her unique brand of musical shtick. Good luck to her...

Today our Pilgrimage group explored the ancient highlights of the Old City of Jerusalem, beginning with a drive around the walls and a fascinating review of the three valleys that surround the City of Gold, protecting it on three sides but leaving it vulnerable, always, to attack from the north from the direction of the Damascus. Jerusalem has been conquered about 20 times in its history, and almost always from that direction. Its most recent conquests were in 1948, when the Jordanian Arab Legion expelled the Jews from the city and destroyed the Jewish Quarter, and of course in 1967 when the Israelis recaptured the city from Jordan.

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon's Temple Pilgrimage Trip to Israel: Report #1

on Thursday, 31 May 2012.

Day One: in Transit, May 30th

As we begin this third Temple Pilgrimage Tour to Israel there are some dramatic news stories that have relevance for Reform Jews, and for everyone.

For the first time that I can recall, the Israeli newspapers and media are highlighting a story about progressive Judaism as the lead story. In a landmark decision this week by the Israeli Attorney General's office Rabbi Miri Gold, a Conservative Rabbi from Kibbutz Gezer right in the middle of Israel, will be recognized officially as a rabbi of a non-Orthodox community, and will receive wages equal to those of her Orthodox counterparts. This decision follows a series of Israeli Supreme Court decisions supporting the Reform and Conservative movement rabbis in recent years, but the official move by the government marks a real, substantive change in the status and professional prospects of all liberal rabbis in Israel.

It now looks like Rabbi Miri Gold will be meeting with our group in Tel Aviv next Friday morning, which should be fascinating. A little bit like meeting Rosa Parks right after the school bus incident...

Summertime

on Tuesday, 29 May 2012.

I know that summer doesn't officially begin until June 21st, but in many parts of the country summer actually starts with Memorial Day weekend, and as kids get out of school and temperatures rise it begins to feel a whole lot like the season of sun and water and freedom.  Or at least that's how I remember it from childhood, when the last day of public school signaled total release from responsibility.  Ah, those blissful last days of school: I believe that in my memory they were sometimes actually more pleasurable than the summer vacations that followed...  sometimes it's the idea of freedom that matters most, not the reality of it.

For most working people this summer period is not vacation at all, but there is a certain sense around an American synagogue, particularly among Religious School families, that they are taking the summer off from Judaism and will see you again when school starts in the fall.  I don't know at what point people began to feel that Judaism was a nine- or ten-months a year experience, but somehow that message has been communicated pretty universally in our congregational life—in nearly every Reform and Conservative congregation's life, to be honest—and I know that there are probably some families with whom I celebrated at the Siyyum concluding ceremonies at Religious School in May that I will not see again until late August or even September.

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