On Saying Goodbye

A message of thanks from Rabbi Weintraub:

This is a very strange month for me.  As I prepare to depart from Newburgh and Congregation Agudas Israel on July 1, 2018, I am beginning to contemplate my new life in St. Petersburg with Congregation B’nai Israel.  I wonder what will be the same and what will be different? What will my responsibilities entail? How will I be welcomed and how will I ensure that the synagogue there is a place of welcoming for all?

As I ponder those questions, I have been working on the challenging text of winding down here.  I have been trying to keep up my normal working activities, while also making extra efforts to make phone calls, meet in person, sit down and talk to the people of CAI.  For the last seven years, they have been by my side in so many different ways. We have studied Torah together, prayed together, shared celebrations and mourned together.  As I go about these coffees, lunches, dinners, meetings I have become overwhelmed by the words of kindness I have heard. I have discovered that small gestures on my part have been received as larger than life by their recipients.  A phone call, a text message, a Facebook post, a hospital or home visit.

For me, these are what I imagine is expected behavior from a rabbi.  Our job, our career is study, prayer, inspiration, but most of all, it is to be present with the souls of those around us.  The job is not just what we put down on paper or in the ether of the internet, but in the human interactions that are far harder to tally.  I might have made lists of the thousands of phone calls, hundreds of visits, and far too many funerals, but instead we all have our respective memories.  

Through it all, I am most grateful to my beloved.  She has stood by me through interrupted dinners, evenings, nights.  She has known that those “interruptions” were sacred moments, calls to be with people in their brightest and darkest moments.  Being a rabbi is more than a full time position. My phone is always nearby. Even on Shabbat, we can be reached via the doorbell. None of this would be possible without her support and her love. My work is in my office and yours,  in my home and yours, within the community in so many different ways. As I say my goodbyes around town, I discover that within the community I am a (very) minor celebrity, that my gestures of goodwill have been well received.

All in all, I am grateful for the time I have spent here.  For me, Newburgh and CAI was a place of personal, spiritual, intellectual growth.  It was a place where I took the theory of my education and turned it into practical ministry, practical rabbinics. Sometimes I made mistakes, and I hope that I took responsibility for them, that I learned from them. I have never claimed to be perfect, but am always striving to be better, to build a kesher, a connection with Gd and community.

Leaving is bittersweet.  New opportunities beckon, new adventures await, yet the love I have for this community will always remain.  CAI and Newburgh are holy places. They have been an essential part of my rabbinic journey. I pray for the strong, bright, vibrant future of these holy communities.

 

A Narrow Bridge

A few years back we had Mama Doni for Hanukkah. They previewed a couple of their beautiful Jewish Bluegrass songs. Now Nefesh Mountain has made it big. They are on the Top Ten Country Chart from Rolling Stone! https://www.rollingstone.com/country/lists/best-country-songs-to-hear-now-tyler-farr-tenille-townes-w519353/nefesh-mountain-the-narrow-bridge-w519356

Click here to listen to the beautiful song:

As I’m listening to their incredible entire album now (Beyond the Open Sky), I was especially moved by this song. Based around Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav’s famous statement: The whole world is a narrow bridge, the important thing is not to (make yourself) afraid.

Nefesh Mountain wrote beautiful lyrics and melody to add to the words of Reb Nachman:

The chorus is especially powerful:
Troubled times, troubled times
You don’t ease a worried mind
Troubled times, troubled times
Just stay behind
It’s not far from our homes

This song speaks to our own life journeys. Some days we find ourselves challenged. Some days we find ourselves overwhelmed, but in the beauty of this music we can lift ourselves up.

I have walked this world on the Narrow Bridge
Kol haolam kulo
From the lowlands so low, to high up on the ridge
Gesher tsar meod

The bridge may FEEL narrow, but our lives are filled with possibilities. No obstacle is insurmountable. As I listen to this song, I’m inspired. These last few weeks have been filled with so much tsurris, so many troubles, but this song brings me hope. We can overcome anything.

All we need to do is find ways of changing our perspectives. Any problem can seem overwhelming if we look at it from the wrong angle. If we can step back, if we can recognize the interaction of our emotions and our logic, we can find a new way to tackle them. This may sound like pop psychology, but it is really ancient wisdom. The world may be a narrow bridge, but it is a bridge that can take us to our next adventure. It is a bridge to our future. It is a bridge to love, life, and all the good that is coming!

Yom Hashoah

Since 1981 the Federation of Jewish Men’s Clubs has commemorated the Shoah with Yellow Candles.
https://www.fjmc.org/content/yellow-candles-home

They have reminded us of the importance of remembering.  They have shown us that while the number of living survivors dwindles each year, that we are perilously close to having no one left with their own memories, WE are the memories.  Our existence as Jews is a living memorial to the Shoah.

The Shoah is in our bones.  It is in our DNA.  Every living Jew is a reminder of the failure of Nazi Germany and its collaborators throughout Europe.

Today, we must remember.  We must see the blood, the hate, and most perilously, we must see how ordinary the violence was and remains.

If only immigration was possible for our relatives.
If only more Germans had stood up against Hitler.
If only the League of Nations had done anything.
If only more Poles and Ukranians hadn’t been ready to hand over or murder their neighbors.
If only Stalin had done something, like welcomed more refugees.
If only Roosevelt had done something, like bombing the tracks to Auschwitz.
If only Churchill had done something, like opening the doors of Mandate Palestine.
If only…

And yet, what happens today?  Across the world there is violence and unrest, nationalism, fascism, hatred are again rearing their ugly heads.  What are we doing?  Are we welcoming the stranger? Are we feeding the hungry?  Are we staying quiet?  Are we speaking out?

I am proud to be Jewish.  I am proud to speak of my identity, my religion, my faith, my Gd.  I am grateful that others spoke out for me.  I am grateful that my ancestors came to the United States to escape persecution and find new opportunities.  I am grateful to the FJMC for their work in sharing memories and creating new ones.  We must continue to remember and speak out.

Please join us tomorrow night at SUNY Orange in Middletown:

http://www.sunyorange.edu/news/articles/pr2018-020.shtml

Yahrzeit Candle

This annual Yom Hashoah Community Commemoration event will feature author and trauma coach Emily Cohen at the Rowley Center for Science and Engineering, April 12 at 7pm.

Shabbat Shalom Parshat Vayikra

Wishing you all a wonderful week. Hope that we will see you tomorrow for Parshat Vayikra. Below is my weekly video.

Sacrifices and New Beginnings

Parshat Vayikra: Sacrifices and New Beginnings

Posted by Rabbi-Phil Weintraub on Friday, March 16, 2018

467

Four hundred and sixty seven school shootings in American History. That is an incomplete list from Wikipedia.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/School_shootings_in_the_United_States

It doesn’t include suicides or when only teachers were killed.

How many happen in other parts of the world?

How many times do we hear thoughts and prayers?

How many times have we seen any actual action to prevent future shootings?

When will enough be enough?

I was a student at Sandy Hook Elementary. The shooting there happened long after I left, but I can picture those hallways. I can see the students and the teachers.

I am grateful to live in the United States of America. We have rights and responsibilities that our friends around the world could only dream about. We have opportunities that are not available everywhere.

What has made this country incredible is how we have welcomed immigrants and ideas from around the world. We have assimilated people from everywhere, welcoming their ideas, their businesses and helping them live their dreams. Sometimes we have been more or less welcoming. Whether we are first or fourteenth generation in this country, we have something to offer and appreciate. I pray that we can look around the world and find solutions to gun violence! We don’t need to reinvent the wheel. We don’t need a uniquely American idea, we just need a plan that can work here!

My prayer for my beloved country:

Ribono Shel Olam,

May we see a day when no child is threatened at school.

May they go and learn in peace.

May we see teachers and students growing in knowledge and not in fear.

May we never need to explain to our children what violent event happened in another school.

May weapons of mass destruction remain outside of school zones.

May students who need help be assisted and not shunned.

May we see this time of peace speedily in our days.

How do we wrestle the Holy One?

Today is #GivingTuesday.  Support us by offering your two cents, or two dollars, or two hundred, or two thousand!

Follow-up to my video:

To be a Jew is to declare oneself part of a Jewish community.  It is to pay your dues.  One cannot really be Jewish alone.  One must affiliate; one must connect; one must see oneself as part of something bigger.  Join us, donate, pray, learn.  Be a part of the holiness that is our tradition, our Torah, ourselves.

 

 

 

Lech Lecha!

Rabbi Philip Weintraub

Congregation Agudas Israel

Parshat Lech Lecha 2017

PACIFIC OCEAN (NNS) — The Sasebo-based amphibious dock landing ship USS Ashland (LSD 48) rendered assistance to two distressed mariners, Oct. 25, whose sailboat had strayed well off its original course.

The mariners, Jennifer Appel and Tasha Fuiaba, both from Honolulu, and their two dogs had set sail from Hawaii to Tahiti this spring. They had an engine casualty May 30 during bad weather but continued on, believing they could make it to land by sail.

Two months into their journey and long past when they originally estimated they would reach Tahiti, they began to issue distress calls. The two continued the calls daily, but they were not close enough to other vessels or shore stations to receive them.

On Oct. 24, they were discovered 900 miles southeast of Japan by a Taiwanese fishing vessel. The fishing vessel contacted Coast Guard Sector Guam who then coordinated with Taipei Rescue Coordination Center, the Japan Coordination Center, and the Joint Coordination Center in Honolulu to render assistance.

Operating near the area on a routine deployment, Ashland made best speed to the location of the vessel in the early morning on Oct. 25 and arrived on scene at 10:30 a.m that morning. After assessing the sailboat unseaworthy, Ashland crew members brought the distressed mariners and their two dogs aboard the ship at 1:18 p.m.

“I’m grateful for their service to our country. They saved our lives. The pride and smiles we had when we saw [U.S. Navy] on the horizon was pure relief,” said Appel.

Appel said they survived the situation by bringing water purifiers and over a year’s worth of food on board, primarily in the form of dry goods such as oatmeal, pasta and rice.

Once on Ashland, the mariners were provided with medical assessments, food and berthing arrangements. The mariners will remain on board until Ashland’s next port of call.

“The U.S. Navy is postured to assist any distressed mariner of any nationality during any type of situation,” said Cmdr. Steven Wasson, Ashland commanding officer.

Part of U.S. 7th Fleet’s forward deployed naval forces out of Sasebo, Japan, Ashland has been on a routine deployment for the past five months as a ready-response asset for any of contingency.

http://www.navy.mil/submit/display.asp?story_id=103056

Can you imagine being lost at sea for weeks?   Jennifer Appel and Tasha Fuiaba were prepared for a long journey, but not for the one they took!  Abraham thought he was prepared, yet his journey had major ups and downs.

 

The Lord said to Abram, Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you.

2 I will make of you a great nation,

And I will bless you;

I will make your name great,

And you shall be a blessing.

3 I will bless those who bless you

And curse him that curses you;

And all the families of the earth

Shall bless themselves by you.” http://www.jtsa.edu/lekh-lekha-torah

 

Abraham’s journey begins in the footsteps of his father.  Terach leaves his home with his family, with Avram and Sarai.  They journey from Ur to Haran, towards Canaan, but they do not make it all the way.  Looking at our own histories, I think about the generations of Jews who desired to go to Israel.  They wanted to make aliyah, but it was simply not possible.  Think about your parents, grandparents, and beyond.  What brought them to this country?  They began a journey, but did they finish it?

My grandparents were all born in New York, but their lives looked very different than mine.  I grew up as the son of a doctor, reminded regularly that while he didn’t choose a lucrative specialty, we always lived comfortably.  My paternal great grandfather had a newspaper stand, working in every sort of weather, every day of the week. He might go to an early minyan Saturday morning, but then he had to work on Shabbat, as much as he didn’t want to.  My paternal grandfather worked for the NY state Department of Labor.  It was not the most interesting job, but he took care of his family.  To take care of my aunt, he worked weeknights teaching English as a foreign language, and took many other side jobs to make ends meet.  My maternal grandfather worked with his hands.  He could see the beauty and potential in many things, fixing, cleaning, and reselling what to others was junk.  (Of course, at home, he had no tolerance for junk and regularly cleaned house, to the chagrin of my grandmother.)  They did not necessarily love their work, but it enabled their children to make different choices.  They strongly encouraged education, pushing their children to succeed in the fields of THEIR choice.

 

What happened to Abraham?  He went to Israel and immediately had to go down to Egypt.  He did some pretty embarrassing things in trying to convince people that Sarah was his sister–out of fear that they would kill him to take her as their wife.  He and Sarah came out of that experience with great wealth and moved to the Negev with Lot–where there were squabbles amongst their entourages and they had to part ways.  He helped out in a war, bringing peace and more success to himself and his family.  Yet one big piece was missing–children.  He had been promised a covenant through generations, yet did not have another generation to share his connection and love.  Taking things into their own hands, Sarai gave him Hagar and Ishmael was born.  A new covenant was sealed with Brit Milah and next week we find out what happens next.

 

Their journey is far from over!  Powerful in this narrative is the intergenerational dynamics.  We will eventually see how Isaac and Jacob will continue to fulfill the covenant.  We will see how this leads directly to Joseph, slavery and the Exodus, which brings us to the Torah and Judaism.

Each of these family members was a step in the chain of tradition.  We are also a part of that chain.  Our parents were.  Our children are.  We have the stories of the generations in our blood–both those common to all of us as Jews AND those unique to our families.  

 

Central to this story is resilience.  Whether Abraham or ourselves, life has never been easy.  We may be privileged.  We may be lucky and fortunate to be educated and have enough to eat.  Yet no life is without pain.  No life is without challenge.  The real test is how we deal with it.

 

According to tradition, Abraham had ten tests.  Each was an opportunity to show connection to God or not.  It was an opportunity it show strength or not.  It was an opportunity to choose life or not.  Each time, through every struggle, Abraham found ways of continuing.  He even managed to offer thanks to God for all of his challenges and opportunities.

 

It makes me think about ourselves and our families.  What is our reaction to struggle?  Is it grit?  Is it stick-to-it-ness or do we call it a day when things get hard?  More books have been written than I can quote on the subject, but resilience and determination is the answer to almost every question.  Our survival has been dependent on that.  We can thank God both for the blessings and challenges of our lives, but more importantly we can thank God for the strength to get through, to push on, to live.

 

Talking to people who have experience loss, meaning everyone, the common thread is the desire to keep going, to put one foot in front of another.  This is not to say that grief and loss are ignored, but that we must still find ways to live, to celebrate, to see the blessings of our lives.  Like Abraham, we must follow the footsteps of our ancestors, but continue the journey to our own destinations.  Like those two sailors, even when they lost their way, they kept plugging along, until they were rescued.  (Sometimes we all need a little help!)  They may not always be exactly where we thought we were going, but through positive reactions, resilience, grit, and faith in God, we can find the strength to discover our own Promised Lands.  Lech lecha!

Resilience and Lech Lecha

I’m experimenting with Facebook Live.  Love to hear your thoughts on this mini video–I think I’m supposed to turn the camera sideways next time!

Resilience/journeys and Parshat Lech Lecha

Posted by Rabbi Philip Weintraub on Friday, October 27, 2017

Rosh Hashanah Day 2: How will you face tomorrow?

RH Day 2 5778 2017 Rosh Hashanah

Sep 22, 2017

Rabbi Philip Weintraub

Congregation Agudas Israel

No matter if you’re born

To play the King or pawn

For the line is thinly drawn ‘tween joy and sorrow

So my fantasy

Becomes reality

And I must be what I must be and face tomorrow

So I’ll continue to continue to pretend

My life will never end

And flowers never bend

With the rainfall

https://play.google.com/music/preview/Tsnydxl4rl572mwahajkvaiuddu?lyrics=1&utm_source=google&utm_medium=search&utm_campaign=lyrics&pcampaignid=kp-songlyrics&u=0#

In 1966 Simon and Garfunkel released “Flowers never bend with the rainfall”. Many discuss it as a parable for depression, or a treatise on existential philosophy, yet I see it as an argument for hope. Yesterday I spoke of our hope for the future, thinking in the frame of the eclipse about planning ahead and considering our passions. Today I think about the eclipse itself. What do we do when things get darkest?

This year I became a board certified chaplain. In the last few years, I have spent thousands of hours meeting with you and with others in my office, in the hospital, in hospice, and in your homes. I have spoken to you in good times and bad, celebrated joyful moments and cried with you as things got tough. To become board certified, I had to write a spiritual autobiography and an essay demonstrating how I met dozens of competencies. The essays were theological, intellectual, and attempted to think deeply about the emotional and spiritual well being of myself and others. Yet when I sat for my board interview, sitting with a panel of already certified chaplains they asked very little about my essays. Over and over, they asked how I FELT about things. They asked how I dealt with my feelings, what coping methods I used.

I must be what I must be and face tomorrow

I spoke of the miscarriage we suffered, how we shared the loss with you, and were blessed with love and support back. I shared how writing, speaking, very occasional exercise–I know, I know it should be more–and even watching TV were helpful to me. When thinking about Rebecca’s upcoming surgery, I know that we have a powerful community, people who have gone through the same and those that have not, yet all who want to help us get over this brief speedbump in our lives.

Our attitudes toward life are so impactful. How we react to the world around us speaks volumes about us, but also about our history. Do we fight or do we flee? Do we hide and cower and pretend or do we acknowledge and make a plan?

Jeremy Brown, an ER physician and researcher at NIH also keeps a Talmud blog. He shared that in the Talmud,

Succah 29a: תנו רבנן: בשביל ארבעה דברים חמה לוקה: Our Rabbis taught: A solar eclipse occurs on account of four things.

Without going into the details of the sins, the rabbis saw an eclipse as a bad omen. Yet how can it be a bad omen if it is a naturally occurring and predictable event? How do we solve this problem?

The Maharal of Prague (d. 1609) has a lengthy explanation in his work Be’er Hagolah which, for the sake of clarity, we shall summarize. The Maharal acknowledged that an eclipse is a mechanical and predictable event but he further suggested that if there was no sin, there would indeed never be a solar eclipse. G-d would have designed the universe differently, and in this hypothetical sin-free universe our solar system would have been created without the possibility for a solar eclipse.

Another attempt to explain the Talmud was offered by R. Yonason Eibeschutz (d. 1764). In 1751, R. Eibeschutz was elected as Chief Rabbi of the Three Communities (Altona, Hamburg and Wandsbek),…[and] gave a drashah in Hamburg in which he addressed the very same problem that Maharal had noted: If a solar eclipse is a predictable event, how can it be in response to human conduct? His answer was quite different. The Talmud in Succah is not actually addressing the phenomenon that we call a solar eclipse. According to R. Eibeschutz, the phrase in Succah “לוקה שהחמה בזמן “actually means “when there are sunspots.”

Yet today, many found the eclipse a cause for celebration. What a blessing to be able to see an amazing natural phenomenon. Looking at more recent rabbis, some were asked if one could say a blessing. Both the last Lubavitcher Rebbe and Hayyim David Halevi, a prominent former Chief Sephardic rabbi of Tel Aviv, may both their memories be a blessing, said it was inappropriate to say a blessing–how can we add to the Torah? If the Talmud did not say a bracha, we cannot either.

While I am far less prominent than either of them, I would have to disagree. There is a blessing for seeing natural phenomena–lightning, mountains, oceans, earthquakes, meteors and comets etc.:

ברוך אתה ה’ אלוקינו מלך העולם עושה מעשה בראשית – Baruch Atta Adonay Eloheinu Melech HaOlam Oseh Maaseh Beresheet. Some might even say Shecheyanu, thanking God that we are alive to see this day. My teacher, Rabbi Josh Heller, wrote in a tshuvah for the Conservative Movement’s Committee of Jewish Law and Standards that we should say

Blessed…Whose strength and Power fill the world

בָּרּוְך אַתָּה יְיָּ אֱֹלהֵינּו מֶלְֶך הָּעֹולָּם, שֶכֹּחֹו ּוגְבּורָּתֹו מָּלֵא עֹולָּם

We can debate about the proper blessing, but my desire to say a blessing on the eclipse speaks to my philosophy of Judaism and of life. Reiterating, how we react, says much about us. Is the Judaism, is the life we want, one where we are afraid of the world around us? Are we looking for terrible omens and signs that the world is coming to an end? Or are we looking for the good, are we looking not just to survive, but to thrive.

There is a story in Talmud Brachot 60b: “Rabbi Akiva was accustomed to saying “Everything Hashem does is for the good”. Once Rabbi Akiva was traveling with a donkey, rooster, and candle and when night came he tried to find lodging in a nearby village only to be turned away. Although Rabbi Akiva was forced to spend the night in the field, he did not lament his fate. Instead his reaction was “Everything Hashem does is for the best”. (It is interesting to note the difference between Rabbi Akiva and us. If for example we were learning for a long time, and we couldn’t find a place to sleep wherever we were, we would have complaints against Hashem that this is the reward we get for learning?! Yet Rabbi Akiva who obviously learned more and better than us had no such feelings). A wind came and blew out his candle, a cat ate his rooster, and a lion came and ate his donkey, and again Rabbi Akiva’s reaction was “Everything that Hashem does is for the best”. That night a regiment came and took the entire town captive, while Rabbi Akiva who was sleeping in the field went unnoticed and thus was spared. When Rabbi Akiva realized what happened he said, “Didn’t I tell you that everything that Hashem does is for the best”?” Rashi explains that if the candle, rooster or donkey would have been around, the regiment would have seen or heard them and would have also captured Rabbi Akiva.

How many of us would react like Rabbi Akiva? Would we thank God that we had survived an attack? Or would we be angry at the loss of our possessions? In recent weeks, we have seen disaster after disaster, floods, fires, storms and more. What is amazing to me is the variety of ways people react. Some are despondent, yet they have lost very little. Others who lost everything, who start with nothing, are filled with gratitude. I spoke recently with Rabbi Hirshel Jaffee, a former rabbi of TBJ. He shared with me some of the tsurris that has been in his life–numerous cancers, the recent loss of his daughter–yet the heart of our conversation was about his deep optimism, his view that hope always remained.

No matter if you’re born

To play the King or pawn

For the line is thinly drawn ‘tween joy and sorrow

Every one of us has faced adversity. Every one of us had great joy and life experiences. Some of us have had far more on our plate, some of us have had less. Too often we hear “God only gives us what we can handle”, which while might sound consoling is rarely positive in the moment. Rather, we might discover that listening to one another’s trials and travails is far more effective. The meaning we find from suffering is far more powerful when discovered individually than imposed by others. Yes, our tradition can offer ideas, yet it is not the exclusive answer. Our tradition brings us both Job and the rabbis of the Talmud with a diverse set of answers!

So I’ll continue to continue to pretend

My life will never end

And flowers never bend

With the rainfall

Simon and Garfunkel give us an out. Yet their idea is based on our Jewish traditions. We can live “As if” things are better. We can live “AND”, knowing that we are not limited to a single emotional state. We can be Happy and sad. We can celebrate AND grieve. We can recognize that the world is not only what we see, but what we make of it. Our tradition teaches us the importance of greeting one another with a cheerful countenance AND that we can reject suffering as a theological concept.

Over the last few years, I have reminded you again and again that our lives are a series of choices, of decisions great and small. How we react to adversity, how we react to one another, greatly determines how we feel about ourselves and the world around us. This is not just pop psychology, but the wisdom of our tradition.

Using the frame of the eclipse, we know that the darkness of the eclipse is only temporary. It is not permanent. The sun is not disappearing forever. It is a moment of time. As another voice in our tradition says, gam ze ya’avor, this too shall pass. If we remember the moments to come, sometimes they can help us in those difficult moments. We know that some sorrows are so great they need more than platitudes, yet the power of our community can help in matters great and small.

As we continue these High Holy Days, let us find the strength to react well, to react strongly and decisively, and to bring love and kindness to our reactions.