Marking the Time with Connection, Engagement, and Support

Rabbi's Annual Meeting Message - June 1, 2021

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

Good evening and congratulations again to those of you elected to represent our congregation on our Board of Trustees. We are so grateful for your vigilance to our community. 

As we normally begin our Board Meetings with a word of Torah, it’s appropriate to begin this evening by looking to this week’s Torah portion - Parashat Beha’aolotcha.   Most often we look to the narrative driven part of this story, in which Miriam is struck with a skin disease and is put into quarantine.  Moses then prays to God “El Na refa nah lah” - “Please God heal her.”  Certainly, this is a meaty portion.  But, interestingly, people have referenced Beha’alotcha for another reasons this year.  That is the ritual of Pesach Sheni, or a second Passover, which refers to the14 Iyar, exactly one month after 14 Nisan, the day before Passover, which was the day prescribed for bringing the Pesach offering in anticipation of that holiday.  

In our portion we are taught that the Passover sacrifice (Korban Pesach) can only be eaten on a specific date and only by those who are ritually pure.  The people raised a question - do they have to completely miss the opportunity to perform the mitzvah if they, but no fault of their own, became impure through coming in contact with a dead body.  

'We are unclean by the dead body of a man; wherefore are we to be kept back, so as not to bring the offering of God in its appointed season among the children of Israel?' (Numbers 9:7). 

In our portion, God responds by declaring that anyone who is unable to bring the sacrifice – either due to ritual impurity or an inability to reach Jerusalem to make the offering during Passover – can instead make the sacrifice on the 14th of Iyar, a full month after Passover, and eat the paschal lamb with matzah and maror (bitter herbs).  In essence, we are given an official “make up day” for the Passover offering to ensure its performance and to ensure all will have a chance to fulfill that duty. 

This is the way our past year began.  With the pandemic shutting down our traditional observance structures, our community began to look at alternative ways we might fulfill our religious life outside of the way things have normally been done.  For some, there was a hope that even an extra month might bring families together to join for Passover - which is how this portion became so relevant. Little did we know how many other observances would need to be adapted. But for us, an extra month did not change much in terms of our ability to fully engage in our Jewish life.  We began to consider pushing off life cycle events and other observances, hoping that things would quickly change.  But we quickly realized we would need to find new high-quality ways to bring Jewish life to our community.  Babies still needed names, young adults were ready to become bnai mitzvah, brides and grooms were anxious to move forward as a married couple, mourners yearned for the opportunity to be surrounded by loved ones. We could not continue to look for other Pesach Sheni opportunities.  We could not continue to push off Jewish life until it was convenient again, nor could we put any of our members at risk by returning to normal.  And so, like every generation of Jews who have come before us, we learned to adapt and create new ways to honor sacred Jewish time and ancient Jewish rituals. 

Over the last year we have demonstrated that: “The doors of our building may be closed but our synagogue is always open.”  Despite a year of disruption, we have managed to keep ourselves moving forward with even footing.  Our success was not just in maintaining the essential elements of Jewish life, it was about forming new connections - within the congregation, the Jewish community, other congregations around the country, and even our connection to Israel.   

We were able to maintain the sanctity of Jewish time, finding meaningful ways to observe Shabbat, the High Holidays, Sukkot and Simchat Torah, Hanukkah, Purim, Passover, and Shavuot.  We introduced our Thoughts of Elul meditations, Drive Thru events, and an online Purim spiel.  We continued to gather with our greater Jewish community to observe Selichot, Yom HaShoah, and Yom Ha’Atzmaut.  We found ways to observe life cycle observances with virtual baby namings, b’nai mitzvah, confirmations, weddings, funerals, shivas, and even conversions.   

We stayed committed to Jewish learning - teaching in the community-led Intro to Judaism course, engaging our children with a top-notch religious school program, meeting virtually with conversion students, offering adult education opportunities in partnership with Beth Abraham and Beth Or, and providing interesting education pieces through the Taste of the Jewish Cultural Festival.  We held robust weekly Shabbat Torah studies, introduced a new Tea and Text series, and offered a session on how to run a virtual seder.  

We also found creative ways make connections with other Jewish communities around the United States and Israel, participating in a multi-congregation meditative micography program with Rae Antonoff, a Yom Kippur Social Action Lecture with Eric Ward and members of Fairmount Temple in Cleveland, a Passover Holy Wanderers Retreat with Noah Aronson and other participating North American congregations.  And we were even able to bring Israel close to home, offering meaningful Israel programming with our tour guide, Muki Jankelowitz, who also brought us along for a virtual Tour of Israel.   

We also engaged locally, continuing our pulpit Exchange tradition with Omega Baptist, launching our Taste of the Jewish Cultural Festival, promoting health with our Oy Vey 5k and Chai Challenge.  We participated with community partners with collection drives and gifts to first responders during the drive thrus and weekly meetings with our mayor, local clergy, and county health officials.  We made casseroles for St. Vincent, helped ensure people could get appointments for vaccines, and held internal discussions of what it means for us to engage in the work of social justice, which resulted in the placement of a sign on our property vowing that we at Temple Israel will not be silent about racism.”   

Social justice was a large part of this past year.  We participated in the YWCA’s 21 day community conversations challenge, Nancy Cohen helped lead our involvement in the Religious Action Center’s Every Voice, Every Vote civic engagement effort, We have congregants currently involved in research for the next RAC OH campaign issue and others being trained in REDI work, Racial Equity, Diversity and Inclusion work, within our congregation.   

Internally, we also looked at ways we could support one another, offering healing services, a session for parents to meet with mental health expert Dr. Betsy Stone, virtual pastoral sessions with the rabbis, QPR suicide prevention training, and a weekly Coffee with the Clergy drop-in time. 

Communications have also been key.  We created a beautiful new High Holiday microsite, developed a robust YouTube presence, reformatted our Tidbits and included a new weekly clergy blog, and formed new connections between congregants, thanks to the more than 2,000 calls made by our caring committee this past year. 

Despite how exceptional this year has been, we have risen to the occasion.  Even during the challenging times of a pandemic, antisemitism, racism, and political polarization, we have continued to fully operate in a way that highlights our values and acts to brings these qualities into the world.  Our success as a congregation could be measured by the numbers.  We have healthy finances, strong fundraising, a dedicated lay leadership, and an exemplary professional team.  But this alone is not enough.  Our success must also be defined by our strength of character, our commitment to Jewish values, and the power of our relationships.   

This year we recognized that many of us are seeking greater intimacy in our relationships with each other and the synagogue.  I believe each of needs to feel remembered and that we matter.  I am excited that our new President, Linda Novak, has chosen to make this a priority during her presidency.    

In the next year, things will, of course, continue to evolve.  And you can be assured that we at Temple will continue to adapt and do so in ways that reenforce our commitment to enhancing Jewish life and learning, cultivating relationships, and engaging in Tikkun Olam, finding ways to piece together the brokenness of our world.  And I am excited.  I feel inspired by the devotion of our congregants who have reached out to each other this year with compassion.   I am grateful to those who have supported this congregation in every way possible. Thank you to all who have kept the synagogue open, even when the doors were closed.  

It has been and continues to be a privilege to serve this sacred community. Thank you. 

This message was originally delivered on May 26, 2021 to the congregation.

Israel’s Fight

Rabbi's Message - May 22, 2021

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

Today we descend from our high point, still full with delicious rugelach and filled with pride for our newest confirmation class.  Yet, even in our celebration, our spirits are heavy.  Over the past week our hearts have ached over the escalation of violence in Israel.  We mourn the loss of life and are particularly saddened by the recent breakdown of previously amicable Arab/Israeli relations within the country.  While we process our sadness and fear, we find ourselves in the spotlight of a highly complicated and widely misunderstood conflict.  It seems the world around us would rather point fingers and assign blame to Israelis and Jews than learn that none of us bears the full weight of this escalation. 

As one who loves Israel, I struggle with the news reports that portray Israel as the Goliath against the Palestinian’s David.  Though Israel is hardly perfect, it is not the monster it is being made out to be.  I would argue that at times Israel cares more about the welfare of Palestinians than Hamas does.  But so much of what is being shared by the news or online influencers is incomplete or short-sighted.  Too often they fail to recognize that Hamas is a terrorist organization choosing to fire rockets indiscriminately on innocent civilians, including Palestinians. Or are deaf to understanding that when protesters call out “Free Palestine from the River to the Sea” they are calling to eliminate 6.5 million Jews who currently live in their ancestral homeland.  Or it downplays Israel’s moral right as a sovereign nation to protect innocent civilians, such as the elderly woman and caregiver who died last week in Ashkelon trying to get to a bomb shelter. 

By and large, Israel has had little opportunity to provide an even-handed narrative.  While Israel allows for freedom of the press, all pictures and stories that come from Gaza must be approved by Hamas.  Their intent is to paint Israel as the aggressor, and they are winning the optics war.  It is painful to see images of people suffering.  But what we see is not always reality.  Nobody understands that the three Gazan children killed by a rocket last week were murdered by errant Hamas rockets, not Israeli.  Nobody sees how much Israel values life, strategically firing at stockpiles of missiles and rockets, not civilians, and giving advance warning to inhabitants before destroying military strongholds embedded in civilian areas.  Nobody knows the extent to which Hamas has misused valuable community resources in Gaza to invest in building tunnels and accumulating weapons.   

This being said, I understand that none are without blame.  We all have blood on our hands.  Yet, despite her imperfections, at the end of the day Israel still has the absolute right to defend herself and to halt the violence.  I am grateful to those who are willing to recognize this need, especially the United States, who supported the creation of Israel’s Iron Dome, air defense system.  This has played the biggest role in protecting civilian lives, both Israelis (of all faiths) and Gazans.  Without the Iron Dome, Israel likely would have had to enter the Gaza strip to forcibly stop the rocket fire upon Israelis.    

There are other ways that we, overseas, can show support for Israel.  One of the most powerful ways at this time is to stay educated and to help others recognize the complexity of the conflict and that not everything they see is as it appears.    

One great example of this was a powerful written response to Trevor Noah’s monologue composed by David Harris, CEO of the American Jewish Committee (AJC).  I urge you to take a few minutes to read his open letter, not only for a clearer picture of the conflict, but to help educate those who are also seeking more clarity.  

As always, prayers are appropriate at this time.  Perhaps you will find comfort in the poetic words of Alden Solovy 

~For the Return of Peace~ 

O Peace, you fleeting dream, 

O Justice, you fickle hope, 

Today we do not pray in your name. 

Today we pray in the name of the children 

Who have never met you, 

Who have not been blessed 

With your love or your truth. 

Surely, their cries must someday 

Drive you out of hiding, 

Summoning you to cast your healing 

Upon all the earth. 

One G-d, 

Ancient and merciful, 

Justice and Peace are Yours. 

Halt their retreat from the world 

And send them to us for good. 

Do it for the sake of Your name, 

Do it for the sake of Your right hand, 

Do it for the sake of holiness, 

Do it for the sake of Your children, 

So that all may live in the fullness of Your gifts, 

As one family on earth, 

Under Your canopy of love. 

© 2021 Alden Solovy 

However long this violence continues, take comfort in knowing that we are a strong people.  Jews have overcome oppressive forces time and again throughout history, and it has not diminished our faith, but made it stronger.  May peace descend upon all Israel and all inhabitants of the Earth. 

Appreciating Our Teachers

Rabbi's Message - May 4, 2021

Rabbi Tina Sobo

This first week of May is recognized as Teacher Appreciation Week and it is an honor to take some time right now to reflect on how grateful I am for this year’s teaching team in our religious school.  When we switched to virtual learning last year, I never expected to still be primarily on Zoom over a year later.  Our teachers committed to teaching, knowing that this year was going to be a very unique year.  All of them have stepped up to the challenge (and then some) throughout the year, engaging with our students, coming up with new tactics to educate, and planning in ways we haven’t asked previously.  This year, we’ve gathered in little squares on Zoom, we’ve waved through car windows at material pick-ups, we picnicked in the parking lot for Passover, and we’ll do it again for the last day.  You’ll hear more about all of our amazing educators during Friday night’s Shabbat service as we officially recognize them – and I hope you will join us.

One of my favorite statements from Pirkei Avot, teaches that “the one who is wise is one who learns from everyone,” and it is complemented by Rabbi Chanina’s teaching (Taanit 7a), “I have learned much from my teachers and even more from my friends, but from my students, I have learned more than from all of them.”  Whether you spend time each week in a classroom or not – we are all teachers and we are all students, and we have all learned something from or in unusual places this year. 

I encourage you this week to take a bit of time to think about who your teachers have been.  How will you show your appreciation for them?

The Motivation to Grow

Rabbi's Message - April 27, 2021

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

On Lag B’Omer, the 33rd day of the Omer, we are reminded of the greatness of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochi (Rashbi), a sage from 2nd- century ancient Judea who had been a disciple of Rabbi Akiva and is believed to have written the Zohar.  It is said that he passed away on this day.  One of quotes attributed to him is the following:  

 “Every blade of grass has an angel that bends over it and whispers, ‘Grow! Grow!'” – Bereishit Rabbah 10:6

Many years ago, when I first came upon this quote, it spoke to me deeply.  I laminated a small placard with these words and it remains next to a plant sitting in our Temple office.  Especially when I was working with younger congregants, I found its message one that we could all stand to be reminded of from time to time.  God has great aspirations for all of us, even the smallest blade of grass, but sometimes each of us needs a little boost to keep us moving toward our own self-fulfillment.  

As children of Israel, we are familiar with these moments.   We are “God-wrestlers”, after all, committed to the holy work of wrestling with God, with Torah, and with a broken world.  It is not always easy.  In fact, it is often challenging, exhausting, and painful.  In our quest for meaning and clarity, we have all faced moments when we lacked motivation or fulfillment and found ourselves “stuck.”  Especially during this pandemic, we have also felt alone.  In a world of more than 7.5 billion human beings, there are times that we doubt the impact of one human, of one voice.  

It is comforting to know that there are those out there, perhaps God’s angels, rooting for us and reminding us that victory is up ahead, that the Promised Land is on the horizon.  I imagine these angels as hardcore gym trainers, motivating athletes when they’ve been pushed to the brink of their strength.  When we find ourselves in those moments, we must not give up, but remember that each of us has a destiny to fulfill.  God is here for us, even in our growing pains, reminding us that we must continue to grow in Torah, even when it hurts.  There will be times when we seek motivational voices, are those inspirational voices, or even provide those encouraging words to others.  We must be those angelic voices supporting one another, not just during the easy moments, but the difficult, as well.  This is part of what makes us a holy community.


The Beauty of Nature

Rabbi’s Message – April 20, 2021

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

This is my favorite time of year, even on a day when the forecast is 60 degrees with a chance of snow!  Earth Week likely is scheduled for now because the weather is perfect for outside activities related to the environment.  I may be biased, but there is no place more beautiful to enjoy the outdoors than by our Temple on Riverside Drive.  I was reminded by many of you at Friday's Taste of the Jewish Cultural Festival of how nice it is just to be near our building, even when the Temple is closed.  We all miss spending time here. We feel spiritually connected to this space along the Great Miami River.  Our synagogue sits on one of the most magnificent green spaces in the area from which to soak in the natural surroundings.  It is easy to see God’s creative handiwork here on days when the grass is green and the flowers are blooming.  During services in the summer, congregants love to look through the chapel windows and gaze upon the scenery.  Our worship is framed by beautiful trees, natural land, and the Five Rivers Fountain of Light.  

Dayton is well known nationally for its role in aviation and engineering patents, but it is also distinguished by its extensive MetroPark trails.  How lucky we are to be at the heart of these paths and so close to Riverscape!  Did you know that behind our building we have Adirondack chairs, a picnic table, and benches for you to enjoy?  Or that there is a path at the north end of our parking lot that leads directly into the Great Miami River Trail? If you are looking for a change in scenery, please feel free to take advantage of our outdoor space and our location.  It is a peaceful place to rest and enjoy a lazy Shabbat afternoon.  Enjoy a picnic lunch overlooking the Great Miami River Basin and then, perhaps, take a stroll with a pet, or a bike ride along the river.   However you choose to spend your time this spring, please remember that you are always invited to enjoy our sacred space, especially now.  And if you find yourself smitten by the beauty of the outdoors, consider giving thanks to our Creator with this poetic Prayer for the Preservation of the Environment.
Sovereign of the universe, who makes peace and creates all, sanctify all that Your hand has shaped, with blessings of life and tranquility. Life giver of the worlds, preserve the earth and all therein. Spread Your wings over its multifaceted riches which in Your abundant kindness You have bestowed upon us, so that for all the generations to come, our children and our children’s children may find wonder and healing in the fruits of Your labor. 
You have conferred upon us humankind, guardianship over the earth and all its beings, as it is written: “And God said, we will make people in our image after our likeness and entrust them with dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heaven and over the animals and over all the earth and over every creeping thing on the earth.”  Instill in us the humility and insight to appreciate our planet’s fragile beauty. May we rejoice in our unique and extraordinary environment, enhance it and bequeath it secure, to future generations. As we continue to unravel the infinite mysteries of the world, grant us the wisdom to utilize its myriad treasures sustainably and preserve them. Unify us all humanity with a shared fate and communal responsibility, so that we may act together for the sake of a better future for all. 
May it be Your will, the Lord our God, that You cast Your rainbow above us, as it is written: “And the bow will be in the cloud, and I will look at it and remember the eternal covenant between God and every living soul of all flesh that is on the earth.”  Lord of wonders, renew the world’s natural order as of old and protect us and the environment so that we may have the merit to thank and praise You and may all the earth be filled with Your glory for eternity, Amen and Amen. 

From Sadness to Celebration

Yom HaZikaron & Yom HaAtzmaut

Rabbi's Message - April 13, 2021

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

Earlier this afternoon, I watched Masa’s Yom HaZikaron Memorial, remembering all who have died to protect the State of Israel.  After completing the recitation of the Mourner’s Kaddish came the soulful words of Hatikvah to remind us that “our hope is not lost yet.”   This hope is one that has kept the Jewish people alive for thousands of years.   But our hope often is coupled with loss; Jewish life sometimes appears on a continuum of sadness to joy. It is no coincidence that Yom HaZikaron was set to be the day before Yom HaAtzmaut, Israel’s Independence Day.  The cost of our independence has been heavy.  Even when the loss has not been ours, we do not rejoice without remembering.  We see this in our retelling of the Exodus from Egypt.  When we chant from the Song of the Sea, we whisper the words of Torah when it tells how horses and riders were hurled into the sea behind us.  Our celebration of independence has always been complex.  It is hard, especially for those who are grieving, to switch so quickly from the depths of sadness to the heights of joy.

But it is the joy that helps to sustain us and give us a glimpse into the possibilities of our future.  This is why we savor the lingering scents of candle, wine, and fragrant spices at the end of Shabbat.  We have all done a lot of grieving this year and for some of us, those moments were made harder by the limitations put upon us by the pandemic.  But now, with the onset of spring, the count up to Shavuot, and the initial success of vaccines, hope is in the air again.

Last year we were disappointed we could not celebrate our 10th anniversary of the Jewish Cultural Festival.  But this year, we have the opportunity to honor years of successful fun-raising and fundraising with our creative hat-tip to our most successful continuous event.  And it comes at a time when we are feeling hopeful that things will not stay closed up and closed off indefinitely.  This Friday’s Taste of the Jewish Cultural Festival will be a safe opportunity to say hello to friends and community members again.  We can also take home the scents and tastes of delicious baked goods, to help us savor the sweetness of community until next month, when we gather again.

I look forward to greeting all of you this Friday at Temple between 4:00 - 7:00 p.m. when you drive through the “Greet the Rabbi” station!  

The Egg, the Matzah Ball, and Water

Change in the Face of Adversity: The egg, the matzah ball, and water

Rabbi’s Message – April 23, 2021

Rabbi Tina Sobo

Last year, 30 people gathered on Zoom for the Passover Seder.  In our household, Matt, the kids, and I attempted to navigate Zoom with Matt’s siblings and their children.  It was not the finest Seder of my life.  In fact, I was disappointed to be holed up at home, so accustomed to large holiday gatherings.  And now, here we are a year later, and my Seder is going to look just about the same – just Matt, the kids, and I, probably with some family on Zoom.  

Except, this year, it’s different because we knew it was coming.  This year, there are a vast number of digital resources, and using video conferencing software is an old trick for many at this point.  In culling through those digital resources, I found this one from The Blue Dove Foundation, which provides a mental health framework for Passover classics.  In this article, one thing that stands out is the description of the egg on the seder plate: “It’s traditional to roast or char the egg, leading to a fun interpretation – an egg, just like us, is resilient!  The hotter the flame, the tougher we get.  We aren’t weakened by struggle; we overcome it and become stronger.”  This interpretation reminded me of the lesson about what happens to a potato, an egg, and coffee beans when exposed to boiling water.  The potato – the biggest and strongest of them, becomes the weakest.  The egg, hardens, becoming perhaps stronger, as Blue Dove Foundation suggests, and the coffee beans, they change the water.  

We all respond to adversity in our ways, whether it be slavery in Egypt, a pandemic, or some other challenge. This Passover, the egg on the plate can remind us of how we can be strengthened by challenges – even if we get a little charred on the outside.  But maybe we don’t always become stronger, and that’s okay.  I also think of the matzah ball, that when cooked, becomes soft (and delicious), – unlike its unboiled original version.  Exposure to the hot water has changed not only the matzah ball, but the water around it has also become different.  What was once just plain water has become infused with the flavors of chicken and vegetables through the process of cooking and becoming soup.  The matzah ball and its environment have been forever changed.  And maybe we too, in facing adversity, changed the situation around us instead of ourselves – turning water into soup.  

We may be like the egg, the matzah ball, or the soup – stronger in the face of adversity, slightly softer because of it, or completely changed.  Each of these reactions are a part of who we are as individuals and who we are as a people.  And so, we will sit down this year and tell the story of Passover like we have for thousands of years.  Maybe we will reminisce over the seders that have been and fantasize the seders that might be next year, all the while experiencing the seder that is.  It’ll be different, but after all, isn’t Passover all about being different than other nights? 

Women Leading Change

Women Leading Change

Rabbi’s Message – March 9, 2021

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

Yesterday marked International Women’s Day, a global day set aside to celebrate the achievements of women. In this spirit, I’d like to share the names of two remarkable Jewish women who are changing our world for the better. They are Lead Attorney Roberta Kaplan and Amy Spitalnick, Executive Director of Integrity First for America (IFA). These women represent a group of individuals who suffered directly as a result of the Unite the Right demonstration in Charlottesville, VA in August of 2017. The organization that supports these efforts, the IFA, is a nonpartisan non-profit dedicated to defending democratic norms and the civil rights of every American.

Kaplan and Spitalnick have been successful thus far in their groundbreaking federal lawsuit, Sines v. Kessler, that seeks to hold accountable the neo-Nazis, white supremacists, and other far-right extremists who conspired to orchestrate that weekend of violence.  By taking on both individuals and groups in this civil lawsuit, they hope to bankrupt the movements, undermine their ability to operate, de-platform them, and show others that people who conspire to perpetrate violent hate acts will be held accountable.  This lawsuit and the work they are doing is both urgent and critical. The research they are conducting reveals the growing use of online platforms to facilitate extremist violence. They have even been able to trace communications between the orchestrators of the Charlottesville attack to those in Pittsburgh and in the recent insurrection in Washington, D.C.

In these times of increased incidents of hate, antisemitism, and racism, I find that the work of these women gives us hope and offers us tangible ways to take action.  On March 23, at 8:00 p.m. you, too, will have the opportunity to be inspired by these women as part of a conversation being offered through the Men of Reform Judaism and the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism. I hope you will tune in and recognize their efforts to lead by example, take action, and stop the cycle of hate.  Register now for the event

The Feeling of Insecurity

Insecurity, Vulnerability, & Empathy

Rabbi’s Message – February 16, 2021

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

Last year I read a powerful book by Isabel Wilkerson: The Warmth of Other Suns: The Epic Story of America’s Great Migration.  This historical study of the the movement of almost six million African Americans out of the Southern United States to the Midwest, Northeast, and West from approximately 1915 to 1970 forever changed the way I understand Black History.  In it, Wilkerson delves into the lives of three extraordinary people, sharing the painful truth of what it meant to flee the Jim Crow South and seek refuge in the rest of the country.      

One of the most painful parts of reading Wilkerson’s book was seeing all of the obstacles that prevented people from escaping the Jim Crow South.  It was never as simple as making a geographical move, even for those who were well integrated in their hometownsI am thinking of Dr. Robert Pershing Foster, in particular.  He was a talented Army surgeon who returned to the south after serving abroad during the Korean War.  When he returned home, he sought to build his medical practice in California.  Leaving his wife and daughters at home while he found a place to live, he drove from Louisiana to California.  But the trip itself nearly cost him his life when it became a long, harrowing nonstop drive.   Foster was not allowed to stop along the way due to segregated hotels and open hostility.  No matter his status, even after becoming Ray Charles’ personal physician, he never was able to escape his vulnerability. 

As I shared over the High Holidays, the inconvenience of our current pandemic has exposed all of us, regardless of race or status, to a new sense of vulnerabilityThose of us who are white experienced, many of us for the first time, what it is like face restrictions in our daily lives.  With Covid-19 we have had to consider risks before engaging in normal activities, such as going to the grocery, a restaurant, the doctor, hair salon, or department store.  We have been limited in when and where we are allowed to go, such as hospitals, nursing homes, banks and bars. And even if we choose to enter those places, we must carefully watch the behavior of those around us to determine if we are in a space in which we feel safe 

There is no comparison between the racism faced by black Americans in the 20th and 21st century and the inconvenience felt by white Americans in a pandemic.  Unless we have lived it, we can never understand the ways in which black and brown Americans here in Montgomery County are disproportionately limited and vulnerable in their everyday lives.  To name only a few, our black community is at a greater chance of dying from Covid, facing limitations in professional success, and giving birth to children who may never reach a first birthday.  However, our experiences will help to heighten our empathy, which I hope will encourage us to deepen our involvement in issues of social justice.   

It healthy for our souls to take this time to recognize what insecurity in everyday living feels like – not so that we live in fear, but to help us better relate to those whose barriers will not disappear once this pandemic subsides. 

Choosing Our Destiny

The Choices We Make

Rabbi’s Message – January 19, 2021

Rabbi Tina Sobo

This week we read from Parashat Bo, where we complete the narrative of the plagues in Egypt and receive the commandment to celebrate Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread in the future.  (The Red Sea crossing happens in next week’s portion.)  In this generally well-known story, there are two verses that stand out, and are not usually part of the retelling.  Just before the final plague, God tells Moses to instruct the Israelites to “borrow” from their neighbors’ objects of silver and gold and that God would dispose the Egyptians favorably to them (Exo 11:2-3).  While seemingly out of place, Rabbi Reuven Greenvald in Reform Judaism’s commentary gives us some additional insight.  He points out that in early liberated life, the Israelites would need a little money to get started.  Some commentators attribute these verses as laying the groundwork to explain where the Israelites got precious metals from to erect the tabernacle and the Golden Calf.  Continuing his commentary, Rabbi Greenvald focuses on the relationship between these actions and the plague that follows.  But, if we look at the Israelites instead, here they stand on the precipice of a new life of freedom, with these precious metals in their hands, and a choice about what to do with them.  We know, as Rabbi Greenvald reminds us, that some of those materials will be used to make the Golden Calf – for purposes that are not ultimately to the benefit of the community.  We also learn that some of them will be used for the most sacred of uses – the service of God.  And I’m sure some were used for more mundane purposes as well.  

Life is full of transitions.  (We have talked about them a lot lately.)  The turning of the year, the upcoming transition of leadership in our country, personal changes and adaptations to our current pandemic life, and the evolving outlook towards hope on stopping this virus – to name a few.  Fortunately, we all have different tools to help us navigate these transitions.  What precious items will we carry with us – material or intangible – to lead us successfully forward?  Will we be like the Israelites who used their precious metals to construct the Tabernacle?  Or is there a Golden Calf in our future?  I will close with words adapted from last week’s blessing of the New Month, which seem particularly apt right now:

Our God and God of our ancestors, may the days ahead bring us goodness and blessing: long life, peace, prosperity, Torah and reverence for the divine, and may the longings of our hearts be fulfilled for good.