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Efrat - July 16

07/20/2014 03:19:25 PM


We spent an afternoon in the region of Gush Etzion. This is part of the land that was occupied after 1967 and is called Judea by its supporters. Historically it includes much of the territory included in biblical Judea. This term might also be applied to Jerusalem. This is part of the most dense areas  of Jewish settlement outside the 1967 borders and is widely considered an area that even in a land for peace deal would be incorporated into the larger Israel. We met there with Bob Lang in the settlement/village of Efrat. Bob was one of the founders of this community and has been a significant leader in the movement to develop this area as part of the greater project of Israel.

Bob said many attractive things. He condemned, "price tag actions" violent and destructive attacks on Palestinians, carried out by more extreme parts of the settler movement. He also spoke of his own efforts to work closely with local Palestinians. We saw a joint economic zone (see photos) where Jewish and Palestinian residents shopped and worked side by side. It was indeed a vision of what a post-peace Israel/Palestine might look like. And his vision for moving to that peace by annexing the West Bank/Judea and Samaria and giving the Palestinians full citizenship, was inspiring in its democratic if perhaps messianic vision (he did not speak to whether he would be willing to take this step in Gaza). 

I would have liked to talk more with him and might on a future trip, as I experienced significant dissonance between his vision and my own understanding of the situation. His comments seemed to only acknowledged the Palestinian facts on the ground in ways that were convenient to his project. For instance he seemed more confident that most demographers I have heard that Jewish birthrate could keep up with Palestinian birthrate. Also, it is hard for me to imagine that the Palestinian population would agree to be annexed without significant violent resistance or allow for such an agreement without even symbolic acknowledgement of the right of return. The right in Israel often calls the left naive for imagining it has a partner in peace. It seems equally naive to imagine that an occupied population, living in poverty without full rights will not resist. And while his embrace of full citizenship for Palestinians seemed sincere it is hard to understand how it lines up with a more nationalist and often prejudiced rhetoric associated with the broader settler movement. It is also, a much rosier vision of the possibility of full rights and equality for Israeli Palestinians than has so far come into existence 20% of the Palestinian Israeli population.

It is also curious that his vision of a one state solution lines up very closely with the vision of the farthest left Palestinian supporters. This leaves me wondering if it has more hope than realize or if their agreement is its own argument for the more centrist  two state solution.

Berlin - July 14, 2015

07/16/2014 05:38:48 PM


My trip to Israel began with a stop in Germany. I know I am not the first to travel to Israel via Germany but of course I think about the Holocaust. I think about the minor miracle of a Jew choosing to fly through Germany to Israel for convenience.
I am embarrassed by an ongoing mental tendency to disparage anything German. I know that this is not an uncommon Jewish sentiment. Watching the World Cup in the Berlin airport I quietly root for Argentina. Their colors after all are blue and white. From time to time you see an Israeli flag held up among their fans. But for emotional rather than rational reasons, it is hard to imagine myself rooting for Germany in any circumstance. I am embarrassed because every German I have ever known has been a mensch. Almost always owning and facing the misdeeds of their ancestors in ways that are remarkable.
This flight had a 14 hour layover in Berlin, but it was a great deal and I am stopping here to visit my good friend from High School, Sebastian.
When Sebastian first introduced himself to me, on our school bus in 1985 - he began almost immediately asking me if I had any problem with him because he was German. In a High School of 2,500 I was one of less than a minyan of Jews. Sebastian sought me out asking if as a Jew I was angry with him. I can't really remember the contents of this conversation except that I said I wasn't. We became great friends.
It wasn't until I visited his home in Germany for a week, that I learned that his grandfather, a Christian minister, and follower of Martin Niemoller (famous for the "When they came fore me..." Quote) had been part of the religious resistance to the Nazis. His efforts to hold secret prayer groups in peoples homes, caused him to be sent to the Eastern front at 33 where died of lung infection. I remember on that first trip, the summer of '88 after my first year in Israel looking at every adult of a certain age and wondering, what were they doing in they doing in the 1930's and 40's. The thought that they might have been resisting the Nazis rarely entered my mind. Rather, I judged and pondered their complicity.
After, some tea and catching up in Sebastian's 6th floor walk-up in former East Berlin,we went for a walk. Not far from his apartment were remnants of the wall that separated the old East and West Berlin. When Sebastian and I first met, and then a couple of years later, when I first visited him in Germany, that wall still stood. It stood and we did not imagine it falling. Seeing this little slice of it reminds me how circumstances can change in the blink of an eye. It gives me hope that perhaps, circumstances I cannot yet imagine will lead to change in Israel to a building of bridges rather than walls.
We walk a couple more blocks and land in the old Jewish quarter. His favorite restaurant, it turns out is a kind Jewish deli, in what used to be a Jewish school for girls. We visit a Jewish grave yard. We visit the New Synagogue, a once awesome cathedral like synagogue, and we stop to look at the little square markers outside many homes that tell the stories of Jews who once lived in these homes, their deportation and deaths. We stand before a wall listing the more the 50,000 Jewish Berliners who were killed in the death camps.
I was prepared for to drink a tall glass of pilsner. I was prepared for the possible dilemma of whether to eat some worst that would normally be outside my kashrut standards.  I was not prepared to face the dark history of this place that is the reason I don't cheer for Germany. Once again my good friend did not shy away but brought me right to the heart of the matter, so that I might face it. I silently said the shema. I silently said the Kaddish.
As I write this, I sit waiting to go through passport control for my final destination, Israel. In line with me are two young Israeli tourists happily wearing Deutchland World Cup jerseys. 

Yossi Klein Lalevi - July 15, 2014

07/16/2014 05:33:23 PM


I have had a full day in Jerusalem. I have visited Mevakshei Derech the Reconstructionist synagogue of Jerusalem founded in 1962. I studied at the Hartman Institute with Yossi Klein Halivni. Studied with MK Ruth Calderon a Bnai Keshet friend in the Knesset Bet Midrash. I heard from Rabbi Andy Sacks about work he is doing here with the Mesorti - Israeli Conservative movement and Rabbi Joel Osseran of the World Union of Progressive Judaism of which the Reconstructionist Movement is a member. I have also been participating in the fast for the 17th of Tammuz along with many other Jews and Muslims who called for this as an effort towards peace. We ended the day and with an interfaith break fast just outside the Old City and an amazing night of singing.
Not being able to focus on all of this I want to share a few insights from the time we spent with Yossi Klein Halevi. He is a journalist and a self-described Centerist. I will not do justice to his talk but encourage you to read his book, Like Dreamers.
I'll share a few of the thoughts that most stuck with me:
Yossi Klein Halevi believes that while we must eventually end the occupation, not for peace, but for Israel's own good. However, he believes there is no chance that this will happen in the next couple of years. What should Israel do for next few years with no possibility of an agreement?
First, he says, don't make things worse. There should be no more development of settlements. This is not because it will make peace possible, but because Israel shouldn't make it any more difficult to withdraw in future.
Second, Israel must not make things worse with the 20% of Arab population in Israel. He said that Israel is failing and institutionalizing discrimination. But it should go without saying that a commitment to basic human decency can happen here. He pointed out that this is something Israel can do now. That it doesn't require Hammas or a peace partner. He said we must begin to ask what does it mean to be a legitimate Arab/Palestinian Israeli?
Regarding Americans, he believed we should be welcomed to participate in this conversation. Zionism is the ideology of the Jewish people not only of Israel and Israel has several responsibilities to Jewish people. However, too many of (mostly Orthodox) live in a world before the fist Intifada that does not recognize the occupation and assumes that Israel need only be resolute. Many of the rest of us live in a world that does not recognize the damage of the second Intifada and imagine that finding a path to peace is simply a matter of will on the part of the Israelis.
Israel must be responsible to other Jews first to actively support all forms of Judaism, not just Orthodox Judaism and second to support the engagement of all Jews in the dialogue about Israel.
He said that part of what Americans no longer understand is that now 70% of Israelis are in the center. This center believes that the creation of a Palestinian state is an existential need, but that the same 70% see it also as an existential threat. He taught that still many are caught in two fundamental commandments that drive the left and the right.
"Remember you weren't strangers in the land of Egypt - Don't do to others what was done to you." And the other is "Remember Amalek!" and that there are real genocidal threats. He says that too many of us see Israel and Judaism only through one of these commandments.I find myself wondering what other commandments might be more relevant to the current realities of Israel?
Regarding how to  make American Jews more effective in discussions about Israel and at influencing Israelis, he argued that focusing on settlements is important because it allows for peace in the future. He asked that we make certain to communicate an understanding of the trauma that Israelis experience. He also said that Israel has a responsibility to not make other Jews ashamed.
I was very interested in these obligations that he demanded of Israel. It made me begin to wonder what  might be the obligations of American Jews to Israel? What does it mean for our actions to not make other Jews ashamed.
More to come. Tomorrow we visit Yesha, the representatives of the settler movement in Gush Etzion. I will also go on hike with some of your children on the Camp JRF trip to Israel.

Red Alert : Israel

07/09/2014 06:34:11 PM



I had set aside time this morning to write the first of what I hope will be several posts about my upcoming trip to Israel. As mentioned in my last letter, I am very much going on this trip, with my fellow Reconstructionist Rabbis, as your rabbi. I had wanted to share with you more details of my itinerary so that in some small way my own trip might help be a bridge to Israel for our congregation, so that you might have a better chance of sending me questions or comments that could better help me represent you and help me bring back my experience when I return.

However, with the ongoing missile attacks from Gaza and the recent responses to those attacks from the Israeli Defense Force, my mind is in a different place.  Last week a Bnai Keshet congregant shared with me an [Apple] app called Red Alert : Israel which I encourage you to download. This app alerts you with a brief alarm any time a red alert is sounded anywhere in Israel. If you were in an area hearing this alert you would have sometimes only seconds to seek the safety of a bomb shelter. For the residents under red alert this is needless to say a harrowing experience which reverberates long afterwards. Having the alert on my phone was a minor inconvenience. Sometimes the app woke me in the middle of the night or interrupted a meeting, but it forced me to mentally exit the safety of Northern NJ and to face the challenges of living with red alerts. I find my mind wandering to my own experiences during past years spent in Israel of incursions and attacks. My colleagues, some already in Israel, have shared with me what it feels like to have their day interrupted and instead of hitting mute, to quickly find the nearest bomb shelter.

Though reports vary, over the last week there have been over 250 missiles fired from Gaza. Thank God, there have been no casualties. Though the IDF’s initial response was restrained, since Monday they are reported to have struck 150 targets. These targets are described as tunnels used for smuggling weapons, locations used to store and fire rockets. These targets are what most of  us would call legitimate when facing similar attacks and Israel often exceeds international norms in efforts to warn civilians about such strikes. Still, it is sobering and painful to hear that since Monday’s airstrikes at least 29 Palestinians had died. I am not aware of an app that monitors the Palestinian experience of such strikes. (A couple of sources: Leaflets - NY Times and Rocket Jerusalem Post)

I remember once before a congregational discussion about the situation in Israel commenting to a Bnai Keshet member that I hoped that with proper effort it would be a thoughtful dialogue. That despite airing of real differences in opinion we could do so without angering each other. He stopped me mid-sentence saying, “Forget it! Impossible! As soon as you publicly say the word Israel, someone will be mad at you.”  The truth of this observation speaks to the emotional, spiritual and political importance of Israel in Jewish life and as a part of Jewish identity. Just saying the word Israel to Jews often touches our feelings about Jewish survival, the Holocaust, the nature of our religion, our core values, and the list goes on.

It seems inevitable that the more I write to you about Israel the more likely I am to make some of you angry. I want to apologize in advance for this. It is precisely because it is so important and so central to the future of Judaism that I think our synagogue and by extension your rabbis must feel like safe places to freely engage in discussions, fears, hopes, and questions about Israel. It is my hope that my own comments will serve to initiate just such conversations. But I know that no matter how careful I am, something I say might lead to you, a congregant I serve, feeling alienated. I hope that you will give me the benefit of the doubt, that my thoughts are shared with respect. I hope that if this happens you will seek me out and that we will find the time to sit together and regardless of any differences of opinion, work toward repair.

I also want to apologize because, as your rabbi, our relationship to Israel is but one of the things that connects us. I also want to be fully present with you for study, prayer, pastoral counseling, tikkun olam, lifecycle events and more. Because I hold this work as sacred, I try to be particularly careful when I know something I say might be agitational. If I am risking saying or doing something that might temporarily distance our relationship, I want to be certain that it is toward a goal that serves our community, the Jewish people, and/or humanity.  Especially when it is unintended I hope that any agitation my comments cause nonetheless serve such a high purpose.

All this being said, over the next few weeks I will error on the side of being forthright rather than guarded.  It is an experiment. I hope that you will take my thoughts and observations as opinions worthy of your time. I hope that my comments will model, however imperfectly, how to engage in such a conversation. It is my hope that such musing will be offered with a tone of inquiry rather than judgment. I hope that this effort will be a small step in our ongoing dialogue as a community. As with any experiment we will learn as we go.

So my itinerary will wait, but hopefully not too long.  I want to share it with you not only so I can bring your questions but because I feel like too often our discussions about Israel are projected only through the lens of conflict. But Israel, in its glory and in its challenges, is far more than this.  It is why so many of you, like me, have gone to Israel and keep going to Israel. We love Israel for all its diverse impacts on Jewish life and the world. And loving Israel means far more than coming to its defense and/or seeking peace only in relationship to its conflicts.


Rabbi Elliott

A difficult Week

07/03/2014 05:34:12 PM


I am sure that many of you, like me, have been preoccupied and distressed by the events in Israel over the last few days. Whenever there is attack in Israel it is painful. But, sometimes I realize that my heart can become callous and each new incident can feel like it is part of an unstoppable cycle of despair. For me, part of what it means to love Israel is to not give in to despair, but to turn and face the pain and open our hearts to it.
The kidnapping and murder of Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Faenkel and Gilad Sha’ar put a face on the pain and fear that is so often part of the lives of our fellow Jews in Israel. It was a reminder that despite the relative quiet of recent years life for Jews in Israel is still one that includes risks very different than the risks we face in the United States.
How saddened I was to hear from friends in Israel and news reports, that some responded during this period of mourning, by roaming the streets of Jerusalem chanting “death to Arabs” and calling for revenge. I was horrified to hear of the murder of 15-year-old Muhammad Hussein Abu Khdeir and that such a murder might have been the result of Jews imagining that they act on behalf of our people.
I believe that wherever we stand in our efforts to support security and peace for Israel, we should as Jews stand together in support for the sanctity of all life. We should stand with the teachings of our tradition that every human is created in the divine image and that Av Harachmim – The Compassionate One – loves every single child of Adam.
The parents of these four boys who have been abducted and murdered, in particular the families of Naftali Fraenkel and Muhammad Hussein Abu Khdeir, have been clear in their grief and their condemnation of all such despicable acts, whether targeting Jews or Arabs.
The Israel Religious Action Center has given us a simple opportunity to support exactly this sentiment. They have organized a campaign that allows us to simply send our condolences to all of the bereaved families. I forward a link to this campaign as a small but meaningful action you might take to stand with these families.
Later this month, I will be leaving for Israel with many of my Reconstructionist Rabbinical colleagues. During my time there, along with various cultural, historical and religious programs, I will also meet with Israeli officials, visit Gush Etzion, an Israeli settlement on the West Bank, and spend time with Palestinians in the West Bank. I hope to keep you up to date on my experiences and reflections. Know that I will be carrying your thoughts, concerns and questions with me on this journey.


Rabbi Elliott

Send Condolence Letters to the Bereaved Families

The bereaved family of Naftali Fraenkel issued a statement this morning:
"There is no difference between blood and blood. Murder is murder, whatever the nationality and age.  There is no justification, no forgiveness and no atonement for any kind of murder."

If you agree, 
use our form to write to the families of Eyal Yifrach, Naftali Fraenkel, Gilad Sha'ar, and Muhammad Hussein Abu Khdeir to express your condolences.

The Walnet Street Station and the Clairidge Atrium: Sukkot, Hannukah and Radical Welcoming

11/20/2013 02:07:01 PM


You may have heard that this year a handful of Bnai Keshet members went to the Walnut Street train station during Sukkot: we gave out coffee and bagels, wished commuters Happy  Sukkot, invited them if interested to shake the lulav, passed out post cards with our Sukkot celebration times and had a great morning service in the park. Had we gone Chabad or just gone crazy? And why for Hanukkah are we about to do something similar with the other local synagogues?

At its very core Sukkot is a holiday about hospitality.  There is a longstanding tradition of inviting ushpizin, spiritual guests, into the Sukkah.  Each night is associated with the spirit of a different patriarch and now matriarch, whom we honor by imagining them celebrating with us.  It is also a holiday on which we are commanded to actively seek out the hungry, the needy, those who are alone or those who might simply desire company.

Sukkot commemorates a time when we ourselves were without permanent homes and were reliant on help for even our most basic sustenance.  To remember our own rootless wandering we leave our homes and dwell in vulnerable, impermanent structures.

This year, Bnai Keshet is looking for deeper ways to embrace the spirit of Welcoming the Stranger.  Going outside of the walls of our home and welcoming strangers who might not yet be ready to step in was one small spiritual step embodying this goal.

It was remarkable the openness of strangers to this message. It was surprising how it took a fair amount of courage to say to a stranger, “Hi I am Elliott. Happy Sukkot.” But it felt transformative to step forward and invite others to share in what we have come to love at Bnai Keshet.

Observing this holiday publicly and inviting strangers to join us in celebration did make us feel vulnerable.  But feeling vulnerable during Sukkot is part of the point. It is at the center of the holiday that is meant to remind us of what it means to be without a physical or spiritual home and to thus come to appreciate material and soulful places we do inhabit.

Hanukkah, which many scholars believe was first celebrated as a belated Sukkot, is also about vulnerability, but also faith and dedication. Hanukkah marks the darkest moment in the year, with the longest nights. It is during this holiday that we actively increase the light we bring into the world until we have passed the darkest night of the year.  We trust that our own dedication can bring enlightenment.

For Hanukkah we will be opening the Hanukkah Spot: A Miracle Pop-Up in the atrium of the Hinck building between Bloomfield Avenue and Church Street. We along with several other synagogues and MetroWest will be lighting the Hanukkiah, singing songs, and celebrating for most of the nights of Hanukkah. Our own Latkapalooza which has remarkably fried enough latkes for our entire shul will be audaciously trying to serve enough latkes for anyone in the community who might wish to join us.

Hanukkah is a holiday that celebrates a miracle. Not that the oil lasted for eight days, but that the priests had the faith to light the oil that was only enough for one day, knowing it would take week to procure more oil.

When we celebrate our Judaism in public and invite, Jews and non-Jews, synagogue affiliates and those who are unaffiliated, friends and strangers we are also acting on faith. We are expressing faith that our light is worth sharing and that there is enough to go around. That sharing it will in fact make it brighter and that we will be enlightened by the strangers we come to know.

Hopefully, our excitement about these holidays will inspire folks who might be interested and who would have never heard of it.

Hopefully, many more people will hear of our effort and know that Bnai Keshet is a community that is stretching to find new ways to be welcoming.

Hopefully this will be one step, expressing our eagerness to welcome not only those who already know they want to join a synagogue, but those who may have never thought of it or who feel some barrier to investigating the possibility.

Hopefully, some of the people we invite or some who hear of this welcome will join us for a dinner or service or study in the future and a holiday that began with welcoming the stranger will end with us having expanded the circle of our community.

Facing the Challenge of Prayer

07/24/2013 02:53:25 PM


Facing The Challenge of Prayer Rainbow Reporter, February 2008

"Prayer is meaningless unless it is subversive, unless it seeks to overthrow and to ruin the pyramids of callousness, hatred, opportunism, falsehoods." 
Abraham Joshua Heschel, “On Prayer,” Moral Grandeur and Spiritual Audacity

In his essay “On Prayer” Heschel challenges us over and over again to take prayer seriously.  He argues that prayer is an essential part of life that demands intense kavanah – intentionality.  The essay is meant to be an agitation to our souls. He warns us against sitting too comfortably in the familiarity of tradition. He warns us that prayer is not simply about fulfilling an emotional need. He demands that we find a way to pray that changes our relationship with the world and God.

For most of us, most of the time, Heschel’s challenge to pray is somewhere between impossibly daunting and utterly intimidating. For many of us an experience of prayer that merely connects with tradition or succeeds in fulfilling an emotional or psychological need would be a great accomplishment. Often it is a great task to get beyond the logistics of Hebrew and melody. Often we are struggling with self-consciousness. Few of us enter prayer with certainty about why we pray or where our prayer is directed. Even for those of us who have had experiences in prayer that were indeed revolutionary moments of the soul we know that these experiences are often far apart and elusive.

And yet prayer is central to the life of the synagogue. Every single week time is set aside at Bnai Keshet for prayer. We set aside more time for prayer as a community than we do for study, gemilut hasadim – acts of kindness or tikkun olam – repairing the world. Even though we are a relatively heady congregation, when we come together for a service, it is prayer that dominates our time together. It is remarkable that we spend so much time together engaged in prayer and have so little idea how to pray.

(I strongly encourage you to read the essay “On Prayer” referenced above.)



Why We Pray

07/24/2013 02:50:02 PM


Invigorating Prayer: Why Are We Praying? 
Rainbow Reporter, December 2006

(I wrote the following article in Fall of 2006. I am happy to say that since writing it our own services have in many ways be transformed. I am reposting it along with other related articles about prayer this month in preparation for my two part class Prayer: Expanding the Spiritual Landscape, October 15th and November 19th.  In this class we will not only be exploring what feels prayerful but how to craft our prayer experience individually and as a community.)

I don’t think it is too radical to say that synagogue worship fails for many people.  It is also probably not too big a statement to say that synagogues of America would be radically different places if a majority of the Jews who belonged to them regularly experienced prayer and services as meaningful. A common measure for a healthy church is whether or not they regularly have 80% of their members at services. I would argue that in the Jewish world a congregation in which 20% of the members show up is consider successful.

While there are many factors that feed this phenomena I think that one of the biggest is that when we do show up to services we often don’t know what we are trying to accomplish. We don’t know what we are praying for or why. Rabbi Michael Strassfeld in discussing this challenge suggests we look at some of the services to which people do show up. He argues that more people show up to Yom Kippur services than Shabbat services in large part because they know why they are there. They know that the purpose of the service is to review their lives, evaluate their sins and to seek atonement. Not only this but because they know why they are there on Yom Kippur it is more likely that they will experience the service as working.

Those who show up regularly to Shabbat services at Bnai Keshet would I think find much to appreciate. We sing, we study, we find time for quiet contemplation and we enjoy each other’s company. But I also believe that our services could go much deeper, our davening could be more accessible, the tradition could feel more celebrated and there could be a more invigorating sense of spirituality.  As a relatively young rabbi I am heartened to know that a senior rabbi in our movement like Michael Strassfeld notices these same challenges and is not sure yet how to address them.

That said, I wanted to share with you my desire to think more purposefully about how to lead Bnai Keshet into a deeper experience of communal prayer. In this process I believe we have to ask ourselves question like: What is the purpose of my prayer today? Why am I praying? And what do we need to pray for as a community?  I believe we have to ask these questions both of ourselves and of our community.  I believe that these questions and our attempts to answer them are a vital first step towards deepening our prayer experience and the meaning of services. I would encourage you to ask them of yourself the next time you pray at Bnai Keshet and pay attention to your answers.  Pay attention to whether or not your experience of services is transformed in any way by having asked the questions.

I am eager to hear your experience and I look forward to seeing you at services and praying with you.


Good Shabbes! (Oh and by the way, turn off your cell phone)

07/24/2013 02:42:43 PM


            Our tradition calls Shabbat me’en olam haba, a taste of the world to come. Abraham Joshua Heschel points out that the idea that a 7th of our lives can be experienced as paradise is a scandal to pagans and a revelation to Jews. In general I believe we do not think hard enough about how to practice Shabbat so that it can be a regular taste of the world as it should be. In fact, one of the challenges of progressive Judaism is that we have to think about it. Without community norms, without feeling required to accept all of traditional Jewish practice, we are left as individuals with the challenge of discerning what will make Shabbat a joyous, re-energizing and holy part of our lives.
            The one exception to this is when we come to shul. One of the great things about coming to synagogue on Shabbat is that it pulls us out of the realm of individual practice and into a community of Shabbat celebration. For some of us just being at synagogue helps us to let go of the office, the yard work or bills that might be nagging us. It is also a sanctuary from the distraction of email and phone calls that quickly connect us back to our work life. One of the gifts we give to each other when come together community on Shabbat is the ability to fully immerse ourselves in communal Shabbat consciousness.
    What does this mean? At its most profound level it means working together to build a Shabbat practice that is delightful. Shabbat should be a rest from the stresses of work. It should be an experience that stimulates our souls and our minds. This includes things like singing with our heart, deep learning and soulful prayer. But it also includes more concrete things like putting a little extra into a Kiddush we are hosting, wearing a favorite outfit and going out of our way to greet each other with warmth and sincerity.
            However, maintaining a culture of Shabbat celebration also requires some discipline. Shabbat is supposed to be a day, not only of refraining from work but of living as though there is no work waiting for us. With only a little effort we can find something other than our job to talk about over bagels and cream cheese. It can be much harder not to talk about the work we do as volunteers to support the synagogue. But whether we are unnecessarily talking about our jobs or taking advantage of seeing a particular Bnai Keshet committee chair, when we allow ourselves to focus on work we deprive ourselves of the ability to fully experience our taste of the world as it should be. When we commit ourselves to speaking to one another in a way that honors Shabbat we open up the possibility of having holy discussions that would otherwise be missed.
    Oh and by the way the world to come does not include cell phone interruptions, email or text messaging. There is little that can pull us more quickly out of our communal taste of paradise than a cell phone. So please, leave your phone at home or if need to bring it, turn it off while at Bnai Keshet. Good Shabbes!
A similar version of this blog post was originally printed in the Rainbow Reporter, January 2007. For more simple ideas for creating a Good Shabbes, see

Gun Violence

07/24/2013 02:35:40 PM


Montclair talk of the town: Local rabbi sounds off on gun violence

FRIDAY MARCH 8, 2013, 11:18 AM

What would you do if you saw a stranger in imminent danger from an attacker?

Would you turn away? Would you hide? Would you call the police? Might you scream stop or pursue the

Most of us hope that we would find the courage to intervene in some way to prevent to an attack. Jewish
law teaches from the verse, "Do not stand idly by the blood of your neighbor," Lev. 19:16, that we have an
obligation not only to respond but to pursue the attacker. It is a mitzvah - a commandment that we must
pursue and attempt to stop the attacker, specifically because when faced with danger we might otherwise
turn away in fear.

The shooting at Newtown and other recent gun tragedies have somehow woken us up to fact that we
have been standing idly by. We have been looking the other way and letting decisions about gun
ownership be made with inordinate influence of gun manufacturers and the lobbyist who represent them.
Perhaps in the past we felt that demanding more reasonable gun control measures would prove futile or
be perceived as naive, but we have failed to take action to stop the ongoing epidemic of gun violence in
our cities and in our homes.

While we may not be in a position to pursue an attacker, we must not stand idly by. We can pursue our
congressional representatives demanding that they enact meaningful legislation that institutes reasonable
background checks, that limits the size of magazine and the number of guns a single individual can

Even if Congress fails to act, we can ask our towns to go beyond passing symbolic resolutions and use
the gun purchasing power of police departments to turn the tables on the gun manufacturers. Our cities
can demand that the gun manufactures they do business with begin to voluntarily build identification
systems into their guns or stop selling the most lethal armor piercing bullets to civilians. We can similarly
ask that our local zoning boards not to wait for Congress to act but to enact ordinances to force gun
retailers to self enforce background checks and reasonable limits of their gun sales.

We have woken up to the epidemic of gun violence. Since Newtown there have been 1,700 gun deaths in
the U.S. The victims of this violence are not strangers. Ask people you know how they have been
impacted by guns. You will hear stories of incredible loss, of murder, suicides and injuries many of which
would have been prevented had their been less access to guns.

It is true that no one piece of legislation or single action will put an end to gun violence. But we can
humbly listen to our spirit refusing to not stand idly by. There are possibilities for change within reach. We
can bravely accept the command to pursue an end to gun violence.

-Rabbi Elliott Tepperman is a rabbi at Bnai Keshet Reconstructionist Synagogue.
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