Toldot 5773: A Response to the Latest Gaza Crisis

November 16, 2012

Rabbi Samuel M. Cohon, Temple Emanu-El, Tucson, AZ

On a sunny, pleasant morning we stood on a hill in southern Israel and gazed into Gaza. Behind us were white apartment blocks, simple single-family homes, and schools, a pretty Mediterranean-style town. In front of us, down on the plain leading to the blue sea, lay an urban area, filled with homes and businesses, motorbikes and cars clearly visible on the roads. Between the two lay a gentle slope tufted with grass and an occasional small, empty building. Just barely in the line of sight was a fence on our side of the city.

As we stood there the mayor of the small town described the daily experience of the people of the Israeli town: going about their ordinary business while listening with one ear for the sharp siren indicating an ongoing missile, or more terrifyingly the whoosh as the deadly explosive came close. After the warning siren you have perhaps a minute to get to cover. There are concrete shelters sprinkled everywhere in the small town, because the missiles come nearly every day-sometimes at night, sometimes in the middle of the day. There is no pattern. The past weekend seven missiles struck the area. The last two days, none. You just can't tell.

Read more: Toldot 5773: A Response to the Latest Gaza Crisis

Vayeishev 5773: Hanukkah

December 7, 2012

Rabbi Jason Holtz, Temple Emanu-El, Tucson, AZ

Whoever came up with the original Hanukkah may have made a mistake. It is possible that Hanukkah is too long by exactly one day. How so? The miracle of Hanukkah is that when the Maccabees took back the Temple, they wanted to rekindle the Menorah. They found enough oil for only one day, but miraculously it lasted for eight days. Not coincidentally, that was just enough time to procure new oil. Now, if it was natural for the oil to burn for one day and was miraculously extended by another seven days, shouldn't that be the length of the holiday, seven days?

No. As it turns out, Hanukkah is not too long. It is exactly right. The reason is that miracles in the Jewish tradition are not just some events that defy the natural order, some occurrence occasioned by God that changes the course of history or turns regular burning oil into slow burning oil. Rather, the Hebrew word for miracle is nes, which also means sign. Just as in the English language, where "sign" comes from the same root as "significant," a nes is a significant event. It does not have to connote the suspension of the laws of nature. Rabbi Harold Schulweis writes, "To witness the miraculous is to observe in an ordinary event extraordinary significance, an event so important that it cries to be raised up and celebrated." In a great many ways, that is where the best lessons of Hanukkah are to be found: in the extraordinarily significant actions of ordinary people. If a miracle were just about what God does, perhaps Hanukkah should be only seven days. The first candle, however, reminds us of the important role of people.

Read more: Vayeishev 5773: Hanukkah

Vayigash 5773: Responding to Gun Violence

December 21, 2012

Rabbi Jason Holtz, Temple Emanu-El, Tucson, AZ

Responding to Gun Violence

The story of Joseph is surely one of the most powerful and engaging in the entire Hebrew Bible. After having been separated from his family for years, Joseph is reunited with his brothers who casted him into a pit and let him be sold into slavery. Joseph is now second only to Pharaoh and is managing Egypt through a famine. When his brothers come down to Egypt in search of food, they do not recognize Joseph, although Joseph recognizes them. Eventually, Joseph reveals himself to his brothers and says to them, "I am Joseph—is my father alive?" Is my father alive? What an anxiety-filled question. Joseph was not the first to ask a question like that. In the aftermath of a shooting, many people around the country are forced to ask the question, "Is my loved one still alive?"

It has been one week since the Newtown tragedy, where twenty six people, including twenty children, were killed. The sad reality, though, is that the amount of violence involving guns in the United States is atrociously high. On an annual basis, there are eleven thousand murders and nineteen thousand suicides using a firearm.1,2 Of the eleven thousand murders, almost three thousand of them are children—children!3 If these statistics do not shake us to our core, more than twice as many preschool age children are killed on an annual basis by guns than soldiers in Iraq and Afghanistan combined.4,5 Every day there is the equivalent of more than three Newtown massacres in the United States. The average day sees more than eighty people killed and two hundred seventy injured by a firearm.6 The mass shootings that we have witnessed in Newtown, in Aurora, and here in Tucson are all tragic, as are all of the other violent episodes involving firearms, but they are pointing to an even larger problem.

Read more: Vayigash 5773: Responding to Gun Violence

Ki Tisa/Parah 5773: WRJ Centennial Shabbat

March 1, 2013

WRJ President Dana Adler, Temple Emanu-El, Tucson, AZ

Shabbat Shalom. I'm so proud to be here this evening, representing the Women of Reform Judaism and I bring greetings tonight on behalf of our WRJ President Lynn Magid Lazar, Pacific District President Ellen Bick, and our Executive Director Rabbi Marla Feldman. There is a tremendous sense of belonging tonight knowing thousands of women around the world are celebrating the centennial anniversary of Women of Reform Judaism in their own houses of worship.

During a celebration such as this we have a tendency to look back on the accomplishments of an organization. During the oneg tonight please take the opportunity to view the Centennial posters on display to give you a better understanding of the active role women of the reform movement have and continue to perform today.

Beginning with 165 women in 1913, meeting in Cincinnati, OH the Federation of Temple Sisterhoods began a journey that now spans the globe and is comprised of over 65,000 women.

Sisterhood, to me, is a culmination of so many parts of a my Jewish life; a place where I am able to put into practice my Jewish values, in a way that impacts my community at home and the larger Jewish community.

My involvement with WRJ has taught me to become a stronger advocate at many different levels; to advocate for children, to advocate for myself, to advocate for social justice, to advocate for women to be strong and to stand up for themselves, and to encourage women to stand up for what is right and to take on active roles in making this world a better place.

Read more: Ki Tisa/Parah 5773: WRJ Centennial Shabbat

D'varim/Chazon 5773: Do Not Separate Yourself from the Community

July 12, 2013

Rabbi Jason Holtz, Temple Emanu-El, Tucson, AZ

Beginning Monday night is Tisha B'Av, the Ninth Day of the Hebrew month of Av. It is a day to remember numerous tragedies. Perhaps the worst of these was the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem. It was destroyed by the Romans, and while we remember the Temple in particular, it is symbolic of losing the war in general. We lost Jerusalem. We lost many freedoms in the Land of Israel. The death toll was staggering and the loss of faith in the aftermath of the war was great. The ancient rabbis teach that the war started as disputes amongst the Jews and only afterwards did the Romans get involved. The Jews failed to realize that while they may have had differing ideas and visions about Jewish life and identity, their real struggles should not have been with one another. The lesson, they teach, is the destructive nature of sinat chinam, baseless hatred, or at least misplaced and outsized dislike. It means turning someone into a competitor or a foe for no good reason. The opposite of sinat chinam is ahavat chinam, free and boundless love and appreciation. Much of the year, I talk to people about Temple Emanu-El and all the reasons to join. Mah nishtanah ha laila hazeh? Why is this night different from all other nights? Tonight, I want to speak about why we should be supportive of other Jewish synagogues and organizations and continue to seek to partner and collaborate with them whenever possible. I believe it is important as a tikkun, a repair, of the sins of our ancestors from so long ago.

Read more: D'varim/Chazon 5773: Do Not Separate Yourself from the Community

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