Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Interfaith Progressive Dinner: May 17, 2015



Please check out this incredible event.  I'm so pleased that Beth Israel Congregation will be participating this year.  Please contact Rabbi Isaacs if you can bake or help serve, set up, or clean up.


Thursday, March 26, 2015

Educator and Artist-in-Residence in Waterville: Shirel Horovitz


Shirel Horovitz: Educator. Artist. Activist.
From Tel Aviv to Waterville, Maine


All are welcome!

                                                                                                        




- Monday, April 6th at 6:30 pm
Thai and Torah: Slavery and Liberation
(Hillel Room at Colby College - for Colby students only)

- Friday, April 10th at 4-5:30 pm. 
Shirel’s Welcome Reception
(Pugh Center) at Colby College

- Monday, April 13th at 7:00 pm
“Understanding Israel through Graffiti” 
(Diamond 141) at Colby College


- Thursday, April 16th at 7:00 pm. 
“Brokenness and Wholeness in the Jewish Tradition: A Workshop in Tikkun.”  
(Colby College Museum of Art)

- Monday, April 20 at 6:30 pm  
"Torah on Tap: The Spiritual Works of Rav Kook - The Father of Religious Zionism."
(Mainely Brews)



- Wednesday, April 22 at 12:00 pm 

“Religious Zionism: A Primer.” 

(Lovejoy 318) at Colby College



- Thursday, April 30 at 7:00 pm.    “Art and Activism: Discussion and Workshop.”   (Pugh Center) at Colby College

- Sunday, May 10 at 11:00 am.  "Bagel Brunch:Storytelling and Tradition " 
(Beth Israel Congregation - Waterville)

- Saturday, May 23 at 6:00 pm 
Waterville Tikkun Leil Shavuot 

(Beth Israel Congregation - Waterville)

**June 12-14, 2015 
Multiple Sessions at the Maine Conference for Jewish Life! Register here.**


Sunday, March 22, 2015

Silence is Complicity: A Lesson from the Talmud for Maine and Israel

   
      This past week, I was invited by the Maine NAACP's Rachel Talbot-Ross and Democratic Leader, Justin Alfond (who became bar mitzvah at Beth Israel Congregation) to speak out against racist comments posted on the facebook wall of a Maine State Senator.  There were many who claimed that an apology issued by this individual was sufficient, and that the body politic was not required to speak out on the record against his comments. We disagreed.  When asked to speak from a Jewish perspective, there was one quote from the Talmud that stood out to me time and time again, 

"שתיקה כהודאה דמיא" 
(יבמות פז ב, פח א)
Silence is the same as agreement

When we do not call out sin and publicly condemn it, it is as though we have committed the sin ourselves.  From an ethical and legal perspective, when we do not publicly distance ourselves from what is wrong, we are implicitly agreeing with it.
           The Jewish community has a long tradition of standing up against racism and intolerance.  The picture of Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel marching at Selma is historic, and exemplifies an era of active Jewish involvement in the civil rights era.  That legacy continues until today with Jewish organizations and leaders who combat hate speech and activity directed toward a wide array of minority groups.  However, many of our representative organizations fall silent when it comes to racist speech in the world's only Jewish State, led by a Prime Minister who claims to represent all of world Jewry.  I claim that when we do not speak out against racism everywhere, especially in our homeland, we lose all moral credibility to speak out against bigotry anywhere.
            On the day of the Israeli election, PM Benjamin Netanyahu, released a video on his facebook page that implied that Arab citizens of Israel voting was a threat to the Jewish state.  Much of the world was outraged, and Arab citizens of Israel certainly took note.  The most heartbreaking response came from Lucy Aharish, a famous Israeli newscaster, Muslim citizen of Israel, and the woman chosen to light the torch on Israeli Independence Day at Har Herzl, Israel's national military cemetery. 

You can view the video here:   https://www.facebook.com/video.php?v=10152840685932523&pnref=story

The most important thing she said was, "The next time that there is a murder of an Arab citizen, it will be as though [the murderer] was given a certification of kashrut from the Prime Minister that it is ok to hate Arabs."

When it comes to evaluating whether or not Netanyahu's words were racist, it is her opinion that carries the most weight with me.  I also take heart from Israel's incredible President, Ruby Rivlin from the Likud party, that was quite clear in his denunciation of the Prime Minister's statements:

"In [Rivlin's] meeting with representatives of the Joint List, he said, 'Everyone must be careful with their remarks, particularly those who are heard around the world...We experienced a turbulent, impassioned campaign,' said Rivlin. 'We heard Jews say harsh things about the Arab public. We cannot ignore equally harsh remarks from the Arab side. There is no room for such comments. We share one reality in the state in which we all live, and citizens cannot discriminate against one another.' Rivlin went on to say, 'Israel is defined as a Jewish state, and we cannot forget that it is democratic at the same time. I call on Jews and my Arab brothers to avoid incitement. It's clear that remarks from a head of state are heard differently and more clearly than someone else."

The President of Israel understands his responsibility as a representative of the entire State of Israel, and all of its citizens, Arab and Jewish, right-wing and left-wing.  He not only defends the values of Israel's Declaration of Independence, but also of Revisionist Zionism's founding father, Vladimir (Ze'ev) Jabotinksy (the ideological father of Likud), who wrote this about his vision for the Jewish State:


"In every Cabinet where the Prime Minister is a Jew, the vice-premiership shall be offered to an Arab, and vice-versa. Proportional sharing by Jews and Arabs both in the charges and in the benefits of the State shall be the rule with regard to Parliamentary elections, civil and military service, and budgetary grants… Both Hebrew and Arabic shall be used with equal legal effect in Parliament, in the schools, and in general before any office or organ of the State… The Jewish and the Arab ethno-communities shall be recognized as autonomous public bodies of equal status before the law… 

After all, it is from Jewish sources that the world has learned how ‘the stranger within thy gates’ should be treated.” (The Jewish War Front 1940)

             Not all of the racism of this election came from the Israeli right, though it received more attention because it came from a sitting Prime Minister.  Likud is a party supported largely by Mizrahi Jews and there were some in the left-wing that expressed their outrage with the party in racially charged, repulsive terms.  The derision of religious Jews and Jews of color by many in Israel's left-wing is a moral outrage and has hobbled it politically for decades.  Progressives in Israel cannot be surprised that they have failed to win the hearts and minds of those whom they hold in contempt. 
             There are those who believe that a Jew in the Diaspora has no right to comment on anything inside Israel.  When the Prime Minister of Israel asserts that he represents all Jews, we are both allowed to speak out and duty-bound to do so.  Personally, as someone who consistently stands up for Israel in the public sphere, invests in Israel, and loves Israel deeply, I feel an even greater responsibility to acknowledge and condemn the racism that mars the soul of the Jewish State and its public image.  I do so by publicly standing in agreement with Israel's President and its founding fathers -- both right and left wing.  I will not be silent, I will not stand idly by, and I will not give the appearance of agreement.  I am proud that my professional union, The Rabbinical Assembly, has done the same.  I hope that more of the Jewish world will follow suit.

Shavua Tov.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

Passover in Waterville: April 3 and 4, 2015





Passover is just a couple of weeks away!  We need your help and participation to make it a success. Here is all the information you need to know.  There will be two community seders in Waterville.

Friday, April 3, 2015.  
Colby College Seder in the Alumni Center at Colby College
 6-7:30 pm 

Free for Colby students and staff.  Community members should pay $18.  Please make checks out to Colby College. RSVP to risaacs@colby.edu

Saturday, April 4, 2015.  Beth Israel Congregation Seder (Kelsey Street Entrance.) 6:30-8:00 pm. 

Cost is $25.  Please make checks out to Beth Israel Congregation.  

DO NOT BRING MONEY TO THE SYNAGOGUE in honor of Shabbat and Chag -- please mail them in advance.  Colby students are invited to join.  RSVP to melanieaweiss@gmail.com

The community needs help preparing for Passover -- both in terms of kashering the synagogue and preparing the seder meal.  Please fill out this form in order to help us make this event a success and keep Mel sane!


Friday, March 13, 2015

Changing Communities: Wisdom from Parashat Va-yak'hel-Pikudei

             "Well why didn't you tell me sooner?!"  Anyone involved in community leadership has probably encountered these words before.  I have heard these words and uttered them myself on several occasions.  You are trying to create a movement or an initiative, and the individuals you are trying to recruit are offended that they weren't invited to participate in the envisioning of the project.   One of the first lessons you learn in leadership is that the process is just as important as the product.  This idea is conveyed in an important way in this week's Torah portion, Va-Yak'hel.
            The first verse of the portion is:

1Moses called the whole community of the children of Israel to assemble, and he said to them: "These are the things that the Lord commanded to make.אוַיַּקְהֵל משֶׁה אֶת כָּל עֲדַת בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל וַיֹּאמֶר אֲלֵהֶם אֵלֶּה הַדְּבָרִים אֲשֶׁר צִוָּה יְהֹוָה לַעֲשׂת אֹתָם:

According to Nahmanides, Moses made a point to invite the entire community: women, men, and children.  Anyone involved in the building of the mishkan, the tabernacle, needed to be there to hear instruction and received guidance.  The B'khor Shor takes this idea a step further.  Why does everyone need to be called together from the moment that Moses descends from Mount Sinai? "So that no one would be able to complain, 'We did not have a chance to contribute, because we were not told until those who knew had already contributed everything necessary.'"
                This is an incredibly salient point that is applicable to modern life.  If you don't bring in all necessary partners at the beginning of a project, not only do you risk leaving out an important voice, you also alienate critical investors in your project.  In the process of changing communities and societies, all potential partners need to be included in the envisioning process.  Then, even if people choose to opt our or not contribute as you had hoped, they were provided the opportunity.  When individuals feel dignified and included from the beginning of an endeavor, only then can you hope to create change effectively within a community or cultivate a community that can have a broader impact.
                There are two other important details in this portion about leadership.  The term va-yak'hel is a hifil verb in Hebrew.  It is a verb that is causative, but not coercive.  Rashi picks up on this fine point and derives some important wisdom from it:

Moses called… to assemble: Heb. וַיַּקְהֵל. [He assembled them]. This [word] is a hiph’il [causative] expression [i.e., causing someone to do something], because one does not assemble people with [one’s] hands [i.e., directly], but they are assembled through one’s speech.ויקהל משה: ... והוא לשון הפעיל, שאינו אוסף אנשים בידים, אלא הן נאספים על פי דבורו...




In order to bring people together for a critical discussion that requires heartfelt participation, folks cannot be coerced.  Moses did not assemble the people Israel with a staff or a forceful hand, but rather with the call and timbre of his voice.  Rashi emphasizes the importance of speech in community building: its power, its importance, and its limitations.  When you want to create and maintain a covenanted community, participants need to be invited and attracted by your message, not compelled by force or guilt.
           Lastly, I have always been moved by the fact that when Moses descends from the mountain after receiving revelation, he is wearing a veil.  His face shines so brightly after receiving the Truth of Torah that it is blinding to other human eyes.  Moses cannot let his light outshine or overpower those he is tasked with leading.  Sometimes leaders need to pull parts of themselves back, not out of shame or lack of confidence, but just to make room for others to speak, contribute, and shine.  Bringing the entirety of your truth to every encounter may allow you to act with authenticity, but it can also limit the contributions of others.  As leaders, we need to provide illumination to those who follow us, but its brightness should attract and not repel, inspire and not shut down.  

May we find inspiration from the leadership skills that Moses exhibits in this week's portion: including all partners from the beginning of a project, attracting them with the quality and attractiveness of our message, and holding back just enough to allow others to grow and shine.  

Shabbat Shalom!!

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

Armor for Leadership: Exploring the Breastplate in Parashat Titzaveh


 

One of my greatest pet peeves is when the media focuses more on the clothing of a leader rather than her actions.  We all remember Condi Rice gaining a great deal of attention for wearing her stunning, sharp Darth Vader-esque pantsuits.  Hillary Clinton also has not escaped the curse of the scrutinized pantsuit! Why can’t we just focus on their performances as leaders instead of how they dress?  Of course, this is often a gendered concern -- men are rarely scrutinized in this way and on this level. That said, there is a kernel of truth to the adage that the clothing makes the man.  Indeed, in this week’s portion, titzaveh, the Torah emphasizes the importance of clothing and its connection to successful leadership.
       In this week’s portion, the Torah focuses a great deal on the wardrobe of the Kohen Gadol, the High Priest.  One of the signature parts of his wardrobe was the choshen mishpat, the “breastplate of judgement.”  According to tradition, this breastplate had semi-magical powers, providing correct judgments to the high priest.  I think that we can learn two important things about leadership from this piece of clothing -- a metal plate filled with twelve precious stones all representing the 12 tribes of Israel:

  1. 1. According to Ibn Ezra, it is not a coincidence that the piece of clothing used to divine the future and guide decision making fell over the heart of the high priest.  He writes, “Just as the Ark is mentioned first among the furniture of the Tabernacle, the breastpiece is mentioned first among the clothes of the High Priest.  It contains the Urim [precious stones] and is worn opposite the heart, a more honored place on the body than the shoulders.”  In order to be an effective leader, you need to have your congregation close to your heart.  Holding your tribes, your children, your congregants, or your students close to your heart is more important than carrying them on your shoulders or bearing them in mind.  If you do not feel their presence and importance on a deep emotional level, you will not be able to serve them effectively.
  2. The name of the breastplate is quite bizarre.  What does it mean to be a “breastplate of judgment?”  One of Rashi’s explanations for this name is quite beautiful and conveys an important, if uncomfortable truth.  He writes, “Its purpose was to provide atonement for judicial mistakes.”  The High Priest needed protection in order to do his job.  He had to carry great responsibility, and as a human being, he was bound to make mistakes.  Therefore, before he enters the risky business of leading the people Israel, he needs to gird and protect himself -- from his own errors and from the complaints of his followers when he has erred.  A person who exercises meaningful leadership, who takes risks in order to lead a people to live more righteous lives, is going to make errors and enemies.  In order to assume a leadership role, one needs to protect his heart from the pain that inevitably comes from leading a human community.

The breastplate, the choshen mishpat, serves two important, almost contradictory roles for the High Priest.  It at once keeps his followers close to his heart, and it also serves as a shield against the hurt that working with them can cause.  Exercising effective leadership requires a leader to maintain opposing values concomitantly, and holding this balance will often determine whether or not she succeeds.  Let us learn from the example of the High Priest -- achieving real intimacy with the people we seek to lead and change, while protecting ourselves so that we can continue our work with wholeness, peace, and integrity.

Shabbat Shalom!

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

A Beit Din Without the Beards






An incredible piece on her work in Waterville by our very own Melanie Weiss.


Check out this incredible piece in Lilith Magazine: