Posts

Rosh Hashanah is coming, but first Selichot!

Sephardic Jews begin their preparations for Rosh Hashanah when Elul begins.  In addition to the daily blasts of the shofar, they begin waking up early and reciting Selichot, prayers of forgiveness and atonement.  They ask the Holy One to remember Her conversation with Moshe after the golden calf, to remember the 13 attributes of mercy, that Gd is gracious, merciful, forgiving of sin, etc., etc.

Ashkenazi Jews also blow the shofar every morning, but they do not begin their Selichot until the Saturday evening before Rosh Hashanah (most years).

This year, my colleague Rabbi Freedman of Temple Beth Jacob, Stefanie Kostenblatt of Newburgh JCC, and I (Rabbi Philip Weintraub) of Congregation Agudas Israel, wanted to figure out how to inspire more people this time of year.  How do we get people excited for Rosh Hashanah, while also considering a public response to the growing hatred and violence in our nation and around the world?  How can we speak out against hatred, racism, anti-Semitism, anti-Islamic, anti-LGBTQ, anti-American, and even Nazi/KKK propaganda? After some brainstorming, we decided that Selichot was an incredible opportunity, a tremendous gift.  It was already a time for repentance, to discuss areas of growth.  If we opened that to the community, we could find new ways of talking about race, hope, love and their opposites in this country.

We invited everyone we could think of, but until they started coming in, we did not know what our numbers would look like.  Approximately 200 people from across the City of Newburgh and its surrounding municipalities came.  We saw Mayor Kennedy, City Councilpeople and Town officials.  It was a truly pluralistic event.  We had a gospel choir from Ebenezer Baptist Church.  And the words from their Senior Pastor, Bruce Davis, Sr. were incredible.  He used the Bible to teach an important message of appropriate outrage AND cooperation.

Chaplain Patt Kauffman joined us on the 16th anniversary of her ordination and her reading of the Psalms was truly inspiring.

 

 

 

We heard a message of love and peace from Imam Rashada, of Masjid Al-Ikles in Newburgh.

I think it was probably the first time on our bimah we heard the Muslim Call to Worship AND a song about Jesus.  Some might find that theologically challenging, but to me, it is a tremendous blessing.  We shared our space with our friends and neighbors.  We called out to Gd and created a sacred moment.  We did not try to blend our traditions, but to hear from the best of all of them.  We learned about one another and saw the beautiful parallels we share.

 

We heard voices from the Catholic tradition, saw friends in all sorts of elegant clerical garb, and truly reflected on our place in the universe.

 

 

While we asked everyone to limit themselves to 6 minutes, I may have used a little more time–but I did try to capture the lessons that each spiritual leader had shared before me.

My words from tonight's incredible evening.

Posted by Rabbi Philip Weintraub on Saturday, September 16, 2017

Rabbi Freedman got us all to think about the Al-Chet, and what we should be asking forgiveness for today. His reminder that we all need to be a bit more “uppity”, that we must not stand by when we hear racism, anti-Semitism, sexism, or any other hurtful -ism brought people to their feet.

I didn’t list everyone here, but it was a beautiful night.  Many thanks to Stefanie Kostenblatt and Rabbi Larry Freedman for their organizational abilities, beautiful teachings and cooperation in this beautiful night.  As I go into the Yamim Noraim, the High Holy Days, I am inspired, uplifted and sure that through our cooperation, we can do amazing work.  Our country is a very special place, where people can come from all different backgrounds, faiths, and traditions and work together to build community.   Hallelujah!

Thank you very much to Caryn Sobel for her beautiful photography.

Comfort my people

Nachamu, Nachamu Ami…
Listen here for Neshama Carlebach's beautiful rendition of the opening of this week's haftorah:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XFAFOQlBCmw&list=PLPQFCYsbHfHEawXD4VCyKZS8eVyvIz57j

Comfort me, comfort my people opens this week's haftorah. After Tisha B'Av, we remind ourselves that we are counting down to Rosh Hashanah, to the opportunity of redemption, repentance, tshuvah, and the resulting forgiveness. How often do we think about our capability for change?

So often we live in a world that assumes our own immutability. We see the world around us and even ourselves as static. We say you can't teach an old dog new tricks.

And yet, and yet, and yet our tradition says the opposite. Our counter-cultural Jewish tradition reminds us that we ALWAYS have the capability to change. It doesn't matter if we are 4 or 104. We can choose our destiny. We have the free will to create new opportunities for ourselves. We can hit reset-right now.

As you listen to Neshama's beautiful rendition of her father's song, think about what you are going to work on this year. Don't get trapped into thinking your life is what it is today. What small steps will you take? What big steps will they lead to? Are you satisfied with yourself and the world around or can you make new partnerships to improve both?

Shabbat shalom a wee bit early!

Destruction and rebirth

Observing Tisha B'Av and its accompanying fast is far too rare in this modern world. It is a commemoration observed mid-summer, when people are away and children are at camp. In fact, it is only at camp that many Jewish children ever hear of this holy day. Yet the day can be one of the most meaningful, giving us a time to mourn the losses of our history.

Tisha B'Av commemorates the destruction of both the First and Second Temples. Remembering the holy site where the Jewish people once had the opportunity to unite and worship together, we read the Book of Lamentations by candlelight. Sitting on the floor we find the past feels more present. The mournful chanting of the short book, of Eicha, shows us how brutal and terrible life can be. Yet when we look around the world, we see that for too many, the world is still brutal and terrible.

For almost two thousand years, it was incredibly difficult for Jews to return to their holy cities. Israel was off limits for most Jews. The journey was too difficult; the conditions too challenging; the borders closes.

Today we can book a flight and stay in five star hotels. Jewish sovereignty seems reborn. It is incredibly hopeful.

Yet we still see violence. The last few weeks have seen great contention at our most holy sites. Peace still seems distant, yet calm appears briefly.

As we fast (or not) tonight and tomorrow, let us pray for peace. Let us hope that the days to come will see true cooperation. The glimmers of hope are there. Redemption seems possible. Let us play our roles and work toward it.

Peace will come with faith and work.