Thursday, January 14, 2010

An Open Letter to Pat Robertson

"Something happened a long time ago in Haiti ... they were under the heel of the French, uh, you know, Napoleon the third and whatever ... and they got together and swore a pact to the devil, they said, we will serve you, if you get us free from the Prince. True story."

Dear Pat,

I pity you. I don't know any other way to say this. I pity you and I pity your world view. You believe, as do many religious fundamentalists that all events on earth have a cause, have a reason. In particular you like to point to tragedy and explain how the people suffering have brought these events upon themselves.
For example you also explained that Hurricane Katrina was in essence God's response to our country's stance on abortion. You have even gone as far as to articulate that former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's stroke was a divine punishment for the Gaza pullout. Instead of possibly being caused by his poor health, high cholesterol, and and obesity.
The reason why I pity you is because you are actually doing a disservice to God, to religion, and to humanity. Now I am not saying that I ascribe to your theology that God causes natural disasters, but I'm willing to play along for a moment.
Playing the role of devil's advocate (pardon the pun): according to all followers of God, it is impossible to fully know the mind of God. So doesn't it follow that if things happen for a reason, we may very well not ever know the reason? Yet you claim in each of the tragedies to know the reason.
According to you, God is punishing someone, in this case the Haitians, for the so called 'pact with the devil.' So if this is the case, why did God wait two hundred years when the land is populated by mostly God-fearing good Christians? Why did God also strike down missionaries, hospital workers, police officers, the elderly, and the young as retribution for 'crimes' committed two hundred years ago?
Is this an act of a loving God? Or is your interpretation simply delusional? Tragedy happens. It happens all the time. We will probably never know why. Instead why don't you look for God in the acts of kindness and charity as the world rallies around Haiti. Countries from across the globe are sending assistance, personnel, money, equipment. Isn't this where holiness really resides?
Instead of looking to lay blame, I suggest you do the world a favor and either help or at least keep silent. For stirring anger and resentment, may make you feel better and keep you warm at night. For the Haitians, they could instead really use some blankets.

Rabbi Benjamin Sharff

Ps - if you click on one of the following links - it will provide you with opportunities to assist.

American Jewish World Service

Union for Reform Judaism

Monday, January 4, 2010

Moving On

It is with bittersweet emotions that I am writing this article for the Temple Times. I am proud to announce that I have been offered and accepted the position of Senior Rabbi for Har Sinai Congregation in Owings Mills, Maryland. Joy and I are very excited by this new opportunity. But we are also saddened by the prospect of leaving such a wonderful community and home we have found both with Temple Emanu-El and in Tucson.
I can remember when Joy and I first arrived here in Tucson 4 ½ years ago to begin serving as assistant rabbi for Temple Emanu-El. I was nervous to say the least as this was my first full-time pulpit position. I was also following in the very large footsteps of Rabbi David Freelund, who had just moved on to begin working for his own congregation in Massachusetts. It was a transition many of you were nervous about as well, but it seems to have worked out pretty well.
Since our arrival, Joy and I have gotten to know many of you. We have also celebrated with you the birth of our two children Emily and Noah.
There are many accomplishments I am proud of, and to summarize them would be a challenging endeavor. I have thoroughly enjoyed teaching our youth and in our Adult Education Academy. I have found profound meaning and holiness in our worship experiences and lifecycle events together. I have delighted in our collaborative creative endeavors like our Purimspiels, the Comic Book Siddur, and Avanim performances. But perhaps my greatest pleasure has come from getting to spend time with many of you in our warm, historical community.
There are many people who I also would like to thank for guiding me and inspiring me throughout these years. Rabbi Samuel Cohon in particular has been an amazing mentor, guide and friend. Cantorial Soloist Marjorie Hochberg has been a consummate professional and colleague who has just simply been a pleasure to work with. I would also like to thank the many staff and lay leadership for their support and understanding during the exhilarating but exhausting placement process.
But not to worry, there is already a committee in place to begin the process of selecting my successor. It is chaired by Bruce Beyer and if you have any questions or would like to provide him with your input, feel free to contact him.
There will be plenty opportunities to say farewell over the coming months, but until then, I wanted to let you know how I am looking forward to continuing to serve as your rabbi.