Friday, December 23, 2011

URJ Biennial Update Video

See below for a video from the Union For Reform Judaism's Biennial that concluded last Sunday

Also below are links to Rabbi Eric Yoffie's final sermon as Head of the URJ

Presidential Shabbat Sermon

As well as Rick Jacob's vision for a New URJ

At the End of Two Years

Saturday, December 17, 2011

URJ Biennal URJ Update

"It never hurts to begin a speech by studying the Torah portion." This was part of of President's Obama speech to the nearly 6,000 in attendance at URJ's Biennial just outside of Washington D.C. It all started as people began to line up at 10am for a 3pm speech. They all wanted to make sure they had a good seat.

Politics aside, there were many just so excited to be in the same room as a sitting president. And President Obama certainly delivered. This was also the first time a sitting president has spoken at a URJ Biennial. During his speech President Obama referred to not only his similar passions to those taken by the Reform movement including a woman's right to choose, rights for the LBGT community, and economic opportunities; the crux of his speech focused on Israel. The president stated, "America's commitment and my commitment to Israel and Israel's security is unshakeable." The president then went on to say, "No administration has done more to support Israel's security than ours."

For many, even though we prayed together Friday evening with over 5,000 people in attendance, and that we may have broken a Guinness Book World record with the largest single gathering of Reform Jews for a dinner, the highlight still in many hearts was this chance to hear from their President.

And this is the power of the Reform Movement. Of course much credit goes to the Religious Action Center, the political arm of the Reform movement that has and continues to be at at the forefront of so many important issues facing our country today. It is also the power of 1.5 million well educated and informed Reform Jewish voters. It is also the power of committed lay leaders, educators, cantors, rabbis and active congregants.

So whether you agree or disagree with the President, it is still pretty amazing that he came to spend an hour of his time with us, and that we all wanted to give up so many of our hours to be with him.

Feel free to read below this article from The Jewish Daily Forward:
Obama Wins Rousing Cheers at Reform Biennial

And here is a transcript of the President's Remarks:
President Obama's Remarks at the 71st General Assembly of the Union for Reform Judaism

Friday, December 16, 2011

URJ Biennial 2011 in Washington D.C. - Update

Every two years thousands of Reform Jews gather together to worship, study, learn, knell, kvetch, nosh, kibbitz, and engage in the collaborative efforts we call Reform Judaism. This year there are six thousand of us at the Gaylord Resort on the National Harbor. We have seen a diversity of speakers, politicians, musicians, and presenters.

The main theme of this year's Biennial is youth engagement. Israel is also very much at the forefront of our conversations as well. There is a little something for everyone. Aside from listening to Deputy Prime Minster Ehud Barak, House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, Representative Debbie Wasserman Shultz, members of AIPAC, Israeli Ambassador and author Michael Oren, I have also taken a course in Twitter. I know it sounds random, but being able to communicate the messages we have been receiving through a variety of mediums is essential to the ongoing conversation going forward.

Later today we'll have the chance to hear President Barak Obama and that will be followed up with a Shabbat experience with 6,000 of our closest friends. It is a type of experience that is invigorating and should be enjoyed at least once in a person's life.

One of the tasks we are taking away from this convention is: what can we do to inspire and engage our membership. There are so many ideas and opportunities out there even in these tough times.

I can't wait to see what today brings.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Rape of Dinah

This past week we read from parashat Vayishlach. Vayishlach can be found in Genesis 32:4-36:43. Vayishlach contains one of most refereed to passages in Genesis where Jacob finds himself alone, about to meet his brother after 20 years. Jacob doesn't know if he is going to live or die, and he wrestles with a being all night long. Perhaps this 'being' was God. Perhaps it was an angel. Perhaps it was Jacob's conscience. The text is not entirely clear. What we do know is that during this encounter, Jacob's name was changed to Israel. Following this wrestling match, Jacob and his brother Esau reconcile, and then they go their separate ways.

What happens next is one of the less well know sections of the Torah, the rape of Dinah. Dinah, Jacob's daughter, was raped by Schechem the Hivite. But Schechem falls in love with Dinah and he asks his father Hamor to arrange a marriage for him. Jacob agrees, but Jacob's sons put a stipulation that Hamor, Shechem, and all their men need first circumcise themselves. On the third day, Simeon and Levi (Dinah's brothers), slaughter all the Hivite men and plunder their possessions. This action anger's Jacob and leaves Dinah in an even more precarious situation.

It is a deeply troubling passage. A person recently commented, that is something Jews simply do not do. Thus we should not even study this section. But the truth is, our Torah is very much reflective of the times of which it was written. And we should be troubled by the acts of violence. But does that mean we should not be engaged with the story?

One of the challenges to Torah and/or Bible study is that we expect the text to reflect our current conditions. We expect it to be egalitarian, fair, thoughtful, and representative of who we are. This approach leads many to great frustration, for the Torah simply is not that way.

Torah is much more complex and complicated, just like our ancestors, and just like us. For example, one lesson to derive from the rape of Dinah, was that, unlike in many other cultures then and now, Dinah was not blamed by her brothers nor executed for bringing shame upon her family. This is quite revolutionary development for world cultures, not to blame the victim. But we are so caught up in our anger about the brothers' response, that we fail to see this point our tradition is trying to make.

Likewise, there are so many other aspects of the Torah we overlook because they do not 'jive' with our perception of how the world should be, failing to see that the Torah is helping us to make the world as it should be. Life is complex, so too is the Torah. And this is a blessing for which I am very grateful.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Hanukkah Does Indeed Rock! Part II

Last year I posted a number of links to Hanukkah videos for modern times indicating that the web is perhaps the salvation of this often misunderstood festival. So with that in mind, here are a few more videos.
Enjoy and Happy Hanukkah

And of course it wouldn't be Hanukkah without the Maccabeats!

Friday, December 2, 2011

Random Biblical Trivia

I admit I have been negligent with regards to regular blog posts. Oftentimes I await inspiration rather than set aside the time to blog. And of course the days and weeks get away from me before I realize that I haven't blogged in ages.

In looking through my posts, I realize I often will try to be topical from a Jewish perspective. And on very rare occasions, I am just random. But blogging, I feel, is like exercise or prayer, in that the only way to be effective, I have to commit to it on a regular basis.

All that being said, I have decided, if I am short on ideas, I'll at least post some random Jewish trivia, which hopefully will brighten your day. And if not, at least help you if ever you are on Jeopardy!

Today's random trivia: The Hebrew Bible, also known as the Tanakh or Tanaach (for Torah, Neviim - Prophets, and Ketuvim - Writings) has 39 books in it. However according to the Talmud, this number is reduced to 24 (joining together the likes of I and II Samuel, and so on).

The longest book in the Tanakh is Psalms with 150 chapters, 2461 verses, 43,743 words.

The shortest is Ovadia (one of the 12 Minor Prophets - only called Minor because of how little we have of their works) at 1 chapter, 21 verses, 670 words.

And the only book that does not directly mention God's name is the book of Esther, of Purim fame.

Good luck on Trivial Pursuit or Jeopardy. And if you win, let me know.