Repairing this World is Our Obligation

Rabbi's Message - November 9, 2021

Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

In Pirkei Avot, Rabbi Tarfon taught: Lo alecha ha’melacha ligmor, v’lo ata ben horin l’hibatel mi’mena. It is not our obligation to complete the work, but nor are we free to refrain from doing it.  

As Jews, we are not permitted to back down from confronting the ills of our community.  We are taught that we must take an active role in finding solutions to bring us closer to the world as it should be.  It is a big weight to bear, considering the enormity of the work to be done, but we are not to be disheartened.  Even if our efforts may not single-handedly fix all of our societal ills, we must remain committed.  We must continue to engage in acts of tzedakah, justice, ma’asim tovim, good deeds, and Tikkun Olam, mending the world. 

Sometimes the work can be discouraging.  There will be moments in our lives when we struggle with the efficacy of our impact.  It could be because of the magnitude of the work to be done or a lack of capacity for effecting change.  But we are comforted knowing that even the smallest of our efforts will make a difference.  When we drop off a bag of dry goods at a food drive, we understand that, although the handful of items we contribute will not eliminate hunger in our entire population, it will nourish the bodies of individual families.  And every ripple we produce through our efforts has the possibility to become a massive change-enacting wave.   

When it comes to systemic issues in our society, these also can feel like climbing insurmountable mountains.  Documents, interactions, personal experiences, and testimonies - they help us understand the depth of the problems our society faces.  And it, too, is a lot.  But, just like our hands-on work of tzedakah, we must keep at it, even if we don’t see the immediate results of our work.  Policy change often takes years.  And we are not free to refrain from the work, just because we may not be able to finish it in our lifetimes.

This is why the work of the Religious Action Center is so important to our congregations.  It offers us a mouthpiece to address larger societal issues as a community and helps us to feel supported in our individual efforts.  

This year, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (RAC) has committed itself to issues surrounding racial justice.  Here in Ohio, we are specifically addressing one of many of these issues, in particular, the death penalty.  We are working closely with Ohioans to Stop Executions (OTSE) to help pass bills that will abolish the death penalty in our state.  With RAC-OH, our congregations are empowered to work in coalition to bring about real, lasting change in our communities.  And together, our ripples will gain incredible force.

On Thursday, you have the opportunity to hear from a powerful panel of speakers to learn more about why we are being called to abolish the death penalty.  Wise Temple is hosting an evening (via Zoom) to hear from State Representative Jean Schmidt, founder of the OTSE Hannah Kubbins, and Jonathan Mann, a family member of a victim.  Following this panel there will be time for us to discuss how we can move forward together as a congregation.  I hope that you will join me for this meaningful conversation.  When we work together, we help carry the weight of this task more evenly and move closer to a world of wholeness and peace.

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

Equal Access for a Brighter, Safer Future for All

Addressing Equality for All

Rabbi’s Message – February 9, 2021

Rabbi Tina Sobo

There’s a well-known rabbinic parable where a community is saving babies that are found floating in the river and how they go through more and more steps to save these babies, utilizing precious resources and time, until someone in the town gets the brilliant idea to go upstream and figure out why babies are getting put in the river in the first place.  

As we consider Black History Month, the progress we’ve made and where we might go in combating racial disparities and civil injustices in our communities, it’s important to recognize that we need both the ones saving the babies and the ones going upstream to address a problem.  This story is told often by the Religious Action Center to give energy and purpose before speaking with elected officials and becoming the “brilliant” ones going upstream to solve the problem.  But here’s the thing – while they were going upstream, there were still babies that needed to be saved.  Changing the policies for tomorrow doesn’t do much for those affected by them today.

Here’s one graph, of many that I have seen, which shows in numbers the disparate effects of COVID-19 on minority groups, particularly People of Color.  While the virus doesn’t care what color our skin is, or what religion we practice, or who we love – the systematic differences we have created and allowed to exist lead to graphs like this one, where we see drastically different rates of hospitalization of black patients in Atlanta.  Why is this?

The conditions in the United States have lead to disparities in several areas, including physical environment, health and healthcare, occupation and job conditions, income and wealth, and education.  It doesn’t take much to see how these are intertwined and contribute to make living under pandemic conditions more challenging and more dangerous for those who do not have equal access and opportunity.

We have seen this play out over the last year with data showing that people of color, particularly blacks, are more likely to contract the virus, to get severely ill or die from it, and now, are less likely to have access to a trusted source of the vaccine.

What can we do?  We can be the Heschel’s and Dr. King’s of our generation, walking hand-in-hand, going upstream to do something about systemic racism.  AND we also need to be the ones kicking off our shoes and diving into the river to save the babies.  It is not enough to do one or the other.  Each arm that gets a vaccine is potentially a life, or many lives saved.  I am proud that your bimah team – Rabbi Bodney-Halasz, Courtney Cummings, and myself – are I am part of various groups actively trying to ensure doses of the vaccine are getting to accessible locations, through mobile units, to those in West Dayton, among other efforts locally.  

So what can we do?  We’ve talked before about “getting out the vote” to encourage the democratic process and make sure all voices are heard.  How do we “get out the vaccine”?  If you know someone who doesn’t have equal access to make or get to a vaccine appointment, help them (safely) make an appointment, make sure they know when they are eligible, share information on social media about vaccine clinics, and the like.  Person by person and appointment by appointment, we can ensure a safe and healthy future for everyone today and even for tomorrow’s babies.

Taking a Stand, Making a Statement

Taking a Stand, Making a Statement

Temple Israel is committed to social justice for all people.  We firmly stand with all of our brothers and sisters in the fight against hate, bigotry, and racism in all forms.  This sign (pictured in this post), now standing out front of Temple’s driveway, will help serve as a reminder to the community of our Jewish values of tzedek (righteousness) and gemilut chasadim (loving kindness)for we are all created B’tzelem Elohim – in God’s image.

Is social justice your passion?  Would you like to help work for change in our community and beyond?  Contact Temple’s office at 937.496.0050 for more details on how you can get involved.  Together we can make a difference.

Continuing the Conversation

Continuing the Conversation

Rabbi’s Message – July 7, 2020

Senior Rabbi Karen Bodney-Halasz

Last week I wrote about the importance of having tough conversations about race, identity, equality, and implicit bias.  We must continue to unpack the meaning and history behind words like “white privilege,” “systemic racism,” and “white supremacy.”  These terms likely evoke strong feelings in all of us, and there is space for those feelings.  They can also mean different things to different people and if we share our thoughts, we are better able to understand each other on a deeper level.  Don’t get me wrong, this is hard work!  Fortunately, we don’t have to do this work alone.  

The Dayton Jewish Community Relations Council is teaming up with the YWCA to bring a special virtual event called The Jewish Perspective on Racial Equity and Social Change.  The conversations have already begun on a national level, but what is the local Jewish response?  How can we further the work of social justice in our own backyard?  Rabbis from all of the Dayton congregations and Chabad will serve as the panelists for this discussion on Friday, July 10 at noon.  I will represent Temple Israel and I hope you will be there too to join in on the discussion.  Register here for this discussion.

In the coming months, we will also have a small committee of volunteers actively seeking ways to positively improve the experience for marginalized individuals.  If this is something you are passionate about, let me know.  I will add you to the roster.

We are a holy community and together we can strive to create a better world for ourselves and for our children.

We are all accountable

 

A Message from Rabbi Bodney-Halasz

June 2, 2020

 
 
 
Alden Solovy offers a new “Psalm of Protest” in memory of George Floyd:

Strangled by Police: Psalm of Protest 17

A psalm of protest,
In memory of George Floyd,
Sung at the gates of justice,
When black men are strangled in the streets,
When power is abused and jails overflow,
When the voiceless are forgotten and minorities misused.
Open, you gates!
Open to the cries of those murdered, jailed or harassed
For being black,
For being a person of color,
For being homeless, indigent, destitute or unwanted,
The detained, the hounded,
The pursued and the persecuted,
Those who are killed while being restrained.
Open, you gates!
Let righteousness flow forth as living waters,
And truth flow forth as healing balm,
To still the hand of violence and hatred,
To cure the heart of bigotry and racism,
To herald fairness and equality,
And bring justice to this land.

-Alden Solovy, 2020

Solovy’s words express our angst that deeply rooted racism still plagues our nation. Though the title of his poem is “Strangled by Police,” he, and we, acknowledge that there are many dedicated officers who are fighting racism alongside us.  Together, may we ensure that all who are in positions of power carry out their responsibilities with justice and compassion.  We are all accountable if we want to see change.

Many of us are looking for ways to help.  To start, here is a list of 75 ideas about how to respond to racism.  Research these ideas, determine what aligns with your values, and, if able, take action. We cannot sit idly by any longer. 

The opposite of good is not evil, it is indifference

Rabbi’s Shabbat Message
May 29, 2020

 
As our festival comes to an end and we enter into Shabbat, let us take a moment to pause and reflect.  On Shavuot we open our hearts and accept the Torah anew.   We celebrate revelation, coming face-to-face with a vision of the world as it could be.   We reaffirm the most fundamental of God’s commandments, law that shapes our worship of God, both directly and indirectly.  God’s presence is everywhere: in every person and in the relationships we cultivate among us.  When we give honor to others, we give honor to God.  It is good to be reminded of such a basic idea, especially as we consider the acts of racism that occured this week, including the unjust death of Mr. George Floyd.  
 
Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel, a legendary voice for justice, taught: “The opposite of good is not evil; the opposite of good is indifference.”  He explained that “…morally speaking, there is no limit to the concern one must feel for the suffering of human beings, that indifference to evil is worse than evil itself, that in a free society, some are guilty, but all are responsible.” It is important that we take heed of this lesson.  We are all responsible for bringing about the world as it should be and may not allow ourselves to find any form of injustice tolerable.   God’s presence is in every human being.  To worship God means we must acknowledge God’s presence in all human beings.  Like the Israelites, today we reaffirmed “naaseh v’nishmah,”  “we will do and we will hear.”  We have sworn to uphold the values handed down to us at Sinai.  Now we must bear witness and come to fully understand the state of brokenness in which we live.  May doing so give us the courage to honor God by standing up against all wrongs inflicted on others.