Tag: Interfaith

If I Didn’t Know It was a Mosque, I Would Have Sworn I Just Walked into My Temple

They greeted us at the steps to the social hall, smiling warmly and asking us each to put on a name tag. Handshakes around, introductions made, we were conveyed up the steps. Each family was ushered forward by a host. The kids disappeared quickly. Girls went down to the climbing bars and swings; boys were swept up into a pick up basketball game. We ate delicious food, prepared with special attention to Jewish dietary requirements. We shmoozed (talked to one another), which began the process of building relationships between the two groups – Muslims and Jews. Imam Ahmed Patel and Rabbis Paul Kipnes and Julia Weisz shared values and ideals from the two traditions, Islam and Judaism. Touched by the warmth, the food, and the communal caring, one Or Ami congregant reflected, “If I didn’t know it was a Mosque, I would have sworn I just walked into our synagogue.”

Over 125 Jews and Muslims gathered at the Islamic Center of Conejo Valley (ICCV) as part of an intentional process of developing relationships between our two communities. Congregation Or Ami’s group, led by Kevin Palm and Vice President Marina Mann, brought young and older together for Sunday evening dinner. We share a few reflections from Or Ami members on the experience:

Vice President and co-Convener Marina Mann comments:

Our April 29th gathering was a really momentous and exciting occasion for about 70 people from Congregation Or Ami. We attended an amazing evening at the Islamic Center of the Conejo Valley where we were welcomed with open arms to join them for an evening of food, conversation, and general getting to know one another. They were so gracious and really helped us realize that the similarities between our two religions are really greater than our differences. 

Both Rabbi Paul Kipnes and Rabbi Julia Weisz and their families attended and were invited to address the crowd. The Imam Ahmed Patel did so too, leading us in a prayer before the meal and beautifully explaining the significance of what was said. After the meal and discussion, we were invited to join them to observe one of their evening prayer sessions. Here too, everything was explained to us. 

Soon, we will be reciprocating by having families from the Islamic Center come to Or Ami to “break bread together.” We also plan on organizing some joint social action projects where we can work side by side to help change the world.

Co-convener Kevin Palm reflects:

I am still so impressed that we got over 125 Jews and Muslims together for dinner! The folks at the Islamic Center of Conejo Valley were so gracious and open. My wife Robin and I shared our table with two Muslim moms. Each of us shared what it is like to be either Muslim or Jewish in America. The Muslim women shared the challenges of being Muslim and raising their kids in America, especially post-9/11. They expressed how even certain teachers say things in their kids’ classrooms that are disparaging towards Muslims and Islam. 

Robin and I were able to share that up until the 1960s-1970s, being Jewish in America was a tough slog too. Housing and country clubs excluded Jews, and it was difficult for Jews to get hired by certain companies. Through the Civil Rights Act amongst other things, the views of Jews began to change. While anti-Semitism still exists in America, there is a lot less of it than years ago. We acknowledged through the work we are doing together that we can help spread the word that being Muslim does not mean being a terrorist. 

While not directly expressed, it can be said that our Jewish families and the Muslim families are doing our best to raise good children who can help improve our world, especially if we can work toward all getting along and understanding each other better.

These Muslim hosts did not consider Jews as being a minority in America, which we thought was interesting. We were able to share that we still are very much a minority. This comment led to a dialogue about influence by the media and how Jews have done well in this area, while American Muslims are still learning how to get their message out. 

Finally, I heard an interesting definition of jihad from our friend Azhar. He said jihad means “to struggle,” as in struggling to be a good Muslim while still being human. It sounded similar to what Yisrael means as “one who struggles with the concept of G-d.”

Or Ami President Lucille Shalometh Goldin writes:

We have heard our Rabbis say that we are all God’s children. I really felt the power of those words as I walked into the Islamic Center and was greeted by their members with the same warm welcoming smiles that we at Or Ami show when we greet those who walk through our doors. 

Muslims and Jews sat around tables talking as people.

To the outside world our beliefs may seem very different. Still, the more we spoke about raising our children and what we wanted for them and how we wanted them to treat others, to help less fortunate, and to treat their neighbors, we began to realize that we were more similar than different. We were a room of parents and neighbors, a community with hopes and dreams for our children and families. The warmth and laughter in the room was contagious. Like in our Jewish culture, they welcome guests over a good meal so there was a beautiful spread of delicious food awaiting us. No one left hungry! Following our dinner we went down to the Mosque’s prayer space to observe them in prayer, a very peaceful ritual that is done five times a day. 

We left the Islamic Center, promising to have our hosts back to Or Ami and of course to serve them a meal in our synagogue home and having them experience one of our services. We are all most excited about doing a joint social action project for our community which involves our kids too. This event was one I will not soon forget!

Past President Susan Gould shares:

Our dinner at the Islamic Center of Conejo Valley was so wonderful. It felt like Congregation Or Ami (with headscarves instead of yarmulkes). The hosts could not have been more welcoming, delightful and open. As I was getting around, I had a conversation with Laila at the table next to ours. She and Or Ami member Cyndi Friedman had been talking about intermarriage and how parents would feel if their children married out of the faith. My new friend Diana and the rest of our table discussed tolerance (and intolerance), prejudice, and our goals for raising well adjusted children. 

The Imam and assistants at the Islamic Center were funny – it was reassuring to hear them speaking about everyday things (like food and Costco) the same way we do! We Jews and Muslims have so much more in common than the common misperception that “we are enemies” would lead you to believe. Yes, there are extremists on the Muslim side. But there are also intolerant extremists among Jews as well. Gatherings like this encourage the progressives on both sides of the Abrahamic divide to break bread and break barriers.

We have high hopes for the future as our two communities – the Islamic Center of the Conejo Valley and Congregation Or Ami – spend more time getting to know each other and helping to heal the divide.

Let’s Pass the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA)

Today I signed on as a co-sponsor of a letter by the Faith Coalition for the Uniting American Families Act (UAFA). The UAFA legislation ends the long-standing discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender immigrant families. The letter, with the support of the Union for Reform Judaism, our national synagogue organization, says:

Dear Honorable Senators and Members of Congress:

We, the undersigned faith-based leaders and organizations, join together to call upon President Obama and our elected officials in Congress to enact inclusive, comprehensive immigration reform legislation that ends the long-standing discrimination against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender immigrant families.

Our diverse faith traditions teach us to welcome and care for our neighbors with love and compassion. Of the many great injustices in this broken immigration system, family separation is one of the most egregious. Family is the bedrock of any society and is critical in the development of healthy individuals and strong communities. Immigration policies should make expeditious family reunification a top priority and should include all families as part of that foundation. For us, this is a clear matter of simple justice.

Under current immigration law, gay and lesbian people cannot sponsor their foreign-born partner for an immigration visa, no matter how long they have been together or how committed their relationship. With no ability to sponsor their partners, U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents are being forced to live abroad, disrupting their careers, uprooting their children, and breaking ties with family, local communities and places of worship. No one should be forced to choose between their country and the person they love. It is time that U.S. immigration laws kept families together instead of tearing them apart.

There are over twenty countries — including strong allies such as the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, Israel and South Africa — that recognize the permanent partnerships of lesbian and gay couples within their immigration laws. The United States should also be a leader in protecting the equal rights of its citizens and should not continue this discriminatory treatment in its immigration laws.

The Uniting American Families Act would end the long-standing discrimination lesbian and gay binational couples face under current immigration law. This bill would allow lesbian and gay binational couples to petition in the same way – and with the same rigorous process of documentation – as straight couples. We endorse the Uniting American Families Act which upholds the fundamental value of keeping families together. We urge Congress to pass this critically important legislation as part of any comprehensive immigration reform measure.

We call on President Obama, and Members of Congress, to provide the leadership and moral courage to pass inclusive and comprehensive immigration reform legislation. No reform can truly be called comprehensive unless it includes LGBT immigrant families as well. We are committed to working together for this long overdue and much-needed reform.

We must all work to honor our country’s commitment to families and its rich history as a nation of immigrants.

Learn more about the Uniting American Families Act.
If you are a major business, consider supporting the legislation along with these corporate supporters.

A Rabbi, A Priest and a Minister Walked into a Bar…

My day was the beginning of a great joke: A rabbi, a priest, and a minister walked into a bar and ordered drinks … except it wasn’t a bar, we didn’t order drinks, and instead of just a rabbi, priest and minister, more than a dozen religious leaders gathered together.

I was attending my first-ever interfaith clergy association meeting. Assembling at Unity of the Oaks in Thousand Oaks, we sat together and broke bread (a meal that amazingly addressed the needs of everyone – carnivores, vegetarians, vegans, and gluten-freers…). We updated each other on the happenings in our churches, temples, mosques, and meeting rooms. Theologically diverse, and in some cases holding diametrically opposed values, we rose above differences to embrace that which unified us: a desire to engage the sacred, to create a world filled with compassion and justice.

So many people complain that religion, the opiate of the masses, has been the cause of more warw and violence than anything else. History provides plenty of fodder for those arguments; the past is littered with crucifixions, crusades, inquisitions, and genocides, colonization, missionizing, and more. Most poignantly, this year we commemorate the tenth anniversary of 9/11, which was nothing if not a misappropriation of Islam for vile purposes.

Yet religion – most all of them – at its core pursues peace. So every instance of an individual or group, picking up a knife or gun and claiming that his “god has called him to slay the unbeliever,” should be recognized for what it is: the misuse, misappropriation, and desecration of the words and intent of the Divine.

Religion’s purpose is to uplift and to strengthen, to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. That’s why more social justice work is done by religious people than any other. And that’s why more joy and love emanated from that interfaith gathering, as Jew, Christian, Morman, Muslim, Buddhist, Christian Scientist (and others) came together to break bread and break the down barriers that attempt to divide us. It was an energizing experience, one I hope to enjoy again and again.

NOTE:  I have begun writing for another blog in Calabasas Patch. Sometimes I will double post. Sometimes I will write content special to that readership. Either way, may my words bring wisdom and illuminate the intersection of spirituality, religion, and daily life. Check out my other blog on Calabasas Patch.

Why Congregation Or Ami is Inspiring #2

Another reason why our Congregation Or Ami is so inspiring: our congregants share their love and joy, and speak about it regularly.

Not long ago, I blogged about the Sweetest Bar Mitzvah Moment. A few days later, I received this email from the same man (grandfather) about whom I wrote:

Dear Rabbi Paul,

You beat me to it. I was about to sit down to write a note to you expressing our appreciation for the beautiful service you and Cantor Cotler conducted on behalf of Ben and our family and friends.

I thought that I would check my email first. And there it was, the special tribute to the love Marianne and I share with each other. Now it is a little difficult to continue writing as both our eyes are filled with tears. Thank you for sharing.

And now it is my turn:

We have been members of a congregation all of our married years – 53 years and counting. We have always believed that it was important to maintain an affiliation with a synagogue. We felt it was an obligation to our community and a responsibility, as parents, to share our tradition with our family. However, until our daughter Ellen introduced us to Congregation Or Ami, we never really enjoyed attending services.

You are unique among rabbis and I can say the same about the Cantor. Prior to you, services were all about Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Moses. You bring our religion into the real world, about today’s relationships with our family, our community and our world in ways we can all relate.

The comments by members of our family, and our daughter Ellen and son-in-law Mark’s friends and neighbors relating to the way you and Cantor Cotler conducted the service were glowing with praise. Several couples stated to us that they were seriously thinking about joining the congregation.

You have a great sensitivity to everyones’ needs. We have experienced the opening of the entire torah to the congregation with you before, and I am always fascinated with the length and the effort it takes to write it. It leaves quite an impression.

We were very touched at the High Holy Day services when you called to the Bimah and thanked the non-Jewish parents for their permission and help to allow their children to be brought up in the Jewish tradition. In all the years of attending services we have never seen that done. Again, it brought tears to our eyes.

In regards to Ben’s Bar Mitzvah. We appreciated your sensitivity in bringing our son-in-law Mark’s family into the service.

We saw Ben in a different light. He has always been the jock in the family, filling our weekends with some sort of athletic event. Although he is really a good student, we did not expect the kind of commitment he made to study for his Bar Mitzvah ceremony. We were proud.

Thank you for becoming part of our extended family. Our trip to Israel allowed us to enjoy a relationship with you, your wife, your father-in-law and your children. We relish and look fondly upon that experience.

With Love and Appreciation,

Marianne and Jim Mertzel

Blessing for Non-Jewish Spouses and Partners on the Bimah at Yom Kippur Services

A Ritual for Yom Kippur Morning and Family Services
Adapted by Rabbi Paul Kipnes (Congregation Or Ami, Calabasas)
from Blessings Written by Rabbis Janet Marder and Denise Eger

[Background: At Congregation Or Ami, we honor and value all members of our community, including and especially those non-Jewish spouses and partners who have chosen to raise their children as Jews. The depth of our outreach and support is evident in the award-winning webpage for interfaith couples and families (http://www.orami.org/outreach/interfaith) which states “No one is more welcome at Or Ami than you.” Non-Jewish spouses are fully integrated into our community, standing on the bima as their children become Bar/Bat Mitzvah and sharing other simchas and sorrows with the congregation. We recognize the special gift and sacrifices our non-Jewish members make to raise their children as Jews. So at Yom Kippur services, just before we sang the Mi Chamocha prayer, we called them to the bima to bless them. I did not write this blessing. I thank my colleagues Rabbi Janet Marder who wrote this blessing, and Rabbi Denise Eger who helped me integrate it into the service. ]

Today I want to recognize and publicly acknowledge for the first time some very important people in our congregation. They are part of Congregation Or Ami because, somewhere along the way, they happened to fall in love with a Jewish man or woman, and that decision changed their life. I want to let you know in advance that in a few moments I am going to be calling up all non-Jewish spouses and partners to come to the bima for a special blessing of thanks and appreciation.

I hope that you will not be embarrassed or upset that I am singling you out in this way. The last thing I want is to make you feel uncomfortable. What I do want is to tell you how much you matter to our congregation, and how very grateful we are for what you have done.

You are a very diverse group of people. Some of you are living a Jewish life in virtually all respects. Some of you are devoutly committed to another faith. Some of you do not define yourselves as religious at all. You fall at all points along this spectrum, and we acknowledge and respect your diversity.

What we want to thank you for today is your decision to cast your lot with the Jewish people by becoming part of this congregation, and the love and support you give to your Jewish partner. Most of all, we want to offer our deepest thanks to those of you who are parents, and who are raising your sons and daughters as Jews.

In our generation, which saw one-third of the world’s Jewish population destroyed, every Jewish child is especially precious. We are a very small people, and history has made us smaller. Our children mean hope, and they mean life. So every Jewish boy and girl is a gift to the Jewish future. With all our hearts, we want to thank you for your generosity and strength of spirit in making the ultimate gift to the Jewish people.

Please, please…do not be shy and do not feel uncomfortable. It is important that we show you how much you have our love and respect, and there is no better time to say that than on the most important day in the Jewish year. Please come up now, and receive the heartfelt gratitude of your congregation.

[Music is played as non-Jewish spouses and partners come up on the bima]

You are the moms and dads who drive the carpool for Mishpacha, Kesher and Temple Teen Night. You help explain to your kids why it’s important to get up on Sunday morning or to come to Temple midweek, and to learn to be a Jew. You take classes and read Jewish books to deepen your own understanding, so you can help to make a Jewish home. You learn to make kugel and latkes; you try to like gefilte fish; you learn to put on a Seder; you build a Sukkah in the backyard. You join your spouse at the Shabbat table – maybe you even set that Shabbat table and make it beautiful.

You come to services, even when it feels strange and confusing at first. You hum along to those Hebrew songs, and some of you even learn to read that difficult language. You stand on the bima and pass the Torah to your children on the day they become Bar or Bat Mitzvah, and tell them how proud you are and how much you love them, and how glad you are to see them grow into young Jewish men and women.

We know that some of you have paid a significant price for the generous decision you made to raise Jewish children. You have made a painful sacrifice, giving up the joy of sharing your own spiritual beliefs and passing your own religious traditions down to your kids. I hope your children and your spouse tell you often how wonderful you are, and that their love and gratitude, and our love and gratitude, will be some compensation, and will bring you joy.

In your honor, I now ask our congregation to rise, and repeat after me as we offer you this ancient blessing from the Torah…

Yivarechecha Adonai V’yishm’recha – May God bless you and watch over you;

Yair Adonai Panav Eilecha Vi-chuneka – May the light of the Holy One shine upon you and be gracious unto you.

Yisa Adonai Panav Eilecha, V’yasem l’cha Shalom – May God be with you always and grant you the precious gift of peace.

It was Pharoah’s daughter, a non-Israelite (a non-Jew) nurtured that baby, who became Moses our leader, who saved our people from Egyptian slavery and received Torah for us and brought us to the gateway to the Promised Land. Similarly, you nurture your children, ensuring they grow up connected to the Jewish people. What you are doing is no less than miraculous. You are ensuring that Jewish values, Jewish tradition, and Or Ami continues to shine brightly. Thank you for being the miracle in our lives.

Todah Rabbah Lachem – Thank you all very much.

Hebrew is Palpitating My Heart

There’s another aspect of being in Israel that palpitates my heart. Hebrew. Danny Siegel, poet and tzedakah (charitable giving) champion, once wrote the poem, Hebrew:

I’ll tell you how much I love Hebrew:
Read me anything Genesis,
or an ad in an Israeli paper, and watch my face.
I will make half sounds of ecstasy,
and my smile will be so enormously sweet
you would think some angels were singing Psalms
or God alone was reciting to me.
I am crazy for her Holiness
and each restaurant’s menu in Yerushalayim or Bialik poem
gives me peace no Dante or Milton or Goethe could give.
I have heard Iliads of poetry, Omar Khayyam in Farsi,
and Virgil sung as if the poet himself were coaching the reader.
And they move me
But not like the train schedule from Haifa to Tel Aviv
or a choppy unsyntaxed note from a student
who got half the grammar I taught him all wrong
but remembered to write with Alefs and Zayins and Shins.
That’s the way I am.
I’d rather hear the weather report on Kol Yisrael
than all the rhythms and music of Shakespeare.

This poem captures one scrumptious aspect of my trip to Israel. Being immersed in Hebrew. Having spent two full years in Israel (post-High School gap year, and first year of Rabbinic School), I learned enough Hebrew to be semi-fluent (at least as far as conversations about eating, politics, religion and day-to-day living). But I was self-conscious enough to let my Hebrew slide. Then, a year ago, I hired a Hebrew tutor to meet me once weekly at a local coffee shop, so that I could talk and hear Hebrew. We graduated to some reading of newspapers and stories. Then she brought me a book in simple Hebrew (Shlosha Yamim Vayeled – Three Days and a Boy) and I surprised myself by plowing through it very quickly. Now as I journey around Jerusalem and the rest of the country, I relish opportunities to speak, read and immerse myself in the Holy Tongue. (I recently wrote about my Love Affair with the Holy Tongue here).

It is important to me, as a Jew and a Rabbi, to be able to communicate in our people’s language. So I traded family histories with the taxi driver in Hebrew. I spent a morning studying with Israelis in the Pluralistic Beit Midrash (study session) all in Hebrew. I am tantalized by the Hebrew in the signs for auto parts or housewares. I find myself eavesdropping on the conversations in the Beit Café (coffee shop), because the Israelis’ Hebrew is finally becoming intelligible. The news on the radio, in Hebrew (speaking still a bit too quickly for me), challenges me to deepen my command of the language. Though most Israelis want to speak with me in English, I respond to them in Hebrew. I can pretty much get along solely in Hebrew. Very cool.

While English was the main language of the CCAR convention, but true to our commitment to the Holy Tongue, our program committee raised up the offerings in Hebrew. Our CCAR convention offered a plethora of opportunities to study texts in Hebrew, to interact with Israelis in Hebrew, and to pray only in Hebrew. In short, so many American Reform Rabbis are fluent in Hebrew – thanks to our mandatory first year of study in Jerusalem. Because we recognize that the Hebrew language connects Jews everywhere as one people.

By the way, the picture is of me and Rabbi Rick Winer (who blogs at Divrei Derech). I’m the good looking one (on the right).

Head Spinning, Heart Soaring: Coexistence Experiences

My head is spinning, my heart is soaring, yet the Israel Convention of the Central Conference of American Rabbis is only in its second day. So much is happening. Where to start.

The Convention opened with a klezmer band (complete with tuba!?) serenading us as we walked to Mercaz Shimshon, the headquarters of the World Union of Progressive Judaism. We shmoozed, caught up with friends new and old, and heard from the Mayor of Jerusalem, Nir Barkat. Fellow blogger Ima on (and off) the Bima (Rabbi Phyllis Sommer) and Divray Derech (Rabbi Rick Winer) covered that event on their respective blogs, so click over to them for the low down.

Today (Wednesday) was for me, a day to explore the potential and challenges of coexistence in Israel. I woke early to pray at the Kotel (Western Wall) with Women of the Wall, a group of women dedicated to making it possible for women to seriously daven (and wear tallitot and read Torah) at the Kotel. They gathered at the back of the women’s section and, covered with tallitot and some kippot, davened together aloud. We men stood behind the mechitzah (divider), sang along, took pictures and prayed. We witnessed the fundamentalist, misogynist anger of some of the ultraorthodox men as they called this the “prayer of Hamas”. One colleague had his camera taken by an ultraorthodox man, and in the tussel to get it back, it dropped and was broken. The self-appointed women guards at the women’s section yelled and screamed that this was inappropriate worship. How unfortunate that the shrieking screams of a woman at this place of prayer is deemed more appropriate than the traditional prayers of sung by a collection of women. It was very upsetting, and yet for women (and mixed groups) who want to pray together at one of Israel’s most holy sites, this is more usual than not. We made our way down to the Southern Wall to read Torah; our female colleagues honored with an aliyah. Sadly, fundamentalism is alive and well in ultraorthodox Judaism.

My friend Ron Stern of Stephen S. Wise Temple is getting involved heavily in Los Angeles Interreligious Dialogue. After hearing the amazing stories he tells, I decided to take advantage of the CCAR’s interreligious experience. The afternoon included a jaunt with the Interreligious Coordinating Council in Israel. Rabbi Kronish took us to meet with the Lutheran Bishop (of Israel, Jordan and Palestine) and the Armenian Archbishop. We heard about their communities, the different narratives, struggles and hopes. In general, a picture of hopeful coexistence pervaded. We then met with the Muslim Kadi of Jerusalem, a religious judge who deals with issues of marriage, divorce and inheritance. He spoke of the freedom of religion under Israelis, about the contentment of this Palestinians who are Israeli citizens of their lives living in Israel, but also about the challenges of gaining full complement of services from the State. They shared their very productive dialogues with orthodox rabbis, and how interpersonal connections are leading to better understanding. The afternoon left me with a sense of hope and possibility. That if we see the Other within his life and tradition, barriers can fall. Bravo (and thank you) to the CCAR for bringing us this meaningful interreligious experience!

Let me speak of love. When I travel to conventions, I usually sit in my hotel room during down time. But my head spins and my heart soars with the intoxication of Jerusalem. Every free moment (blogging excepted), I am out and about. Walking the back alleys of the Old City. Meandering through the neighborhoods. Racking up hours of exploring. I cannot get enough of this place! Enough blogging. Gotta get out there and meander!

Get Over It, suggests Kula, to Pope’s Critics

So the Pope revoked the excommunication of a Holocaust-denying bishop. So the Jewish defense world was up in arms. Wall to wall criticism, as JTA’s Telegraph blog puts it. It is easy to get worked up about this. Holocaust denial is one of those hot buttons that necessarily must evoke a response. But does the Pope’s action require such a stern response?

As the Telegraph reports, in On Holocaust-denying bishop, a voice of dissent,

Rabbi Irwin Kula has produced a dissenting opinion that, in a nutshell, amounts to this: Get over it.

The Jews overreacted, Kula writes in the Huffington Post. They haven’t labored to understand this through Catholic eyes. They don’t understand what it must be like to run a spiritual community of more than a billion people. The bishop is irrelevant and lacking power anyway, a crotchety old uncle. And given that the Catholic Church has condemned Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism and showed great respect for Jews in recent decades, the rantings of an unknown bishop really shouldn’t matter that much.
Kula writes:

Something is off kilter here. Is it possible that the leadership of Jewish defense agencies, people with the best of motivation who have historically done critical work in fighting anti-Semitism, have become so possessed by their roles as monitors of anti-Semitism, so haunted by unresolved fears, guilt, and even shame regarding the Holocaust, and perhaps so unconsciously driven by how these issues literally keep their institutions afloat, that they have become incapable of distinguishing between a bishop’s ridiculous, loopy, discredited views about the Holocaust and a Church from the Pope down which has clearly and repeatedly recognized the evil done to Jews in the Holocaust and called for that evil to never be forgotten.

Moreover, writes Kula:

Finally, when the Pope as well as key Vatican officials said within a day that Williamson’s views are “absolutely indefensible” and that in the Pope’s own words, the Church feels “full and indispensable solidarity with Jews against any Holocaust denial” where was a little humility in response? Wouldn’t it have been interesting, yet alone ethically compelling, for those who initially lashed out to have acknowledged that perhaps they did overreact and that they do know that the Church and specifically this Pope are very sensitive to these issues.

Gives you pause for thought…

Call for Climate Action

I signed onto interfaith petition to President Elect Obama on Climate Control. You can sign on too here.

Call for Climate Action
Interfaith Petition to
President-elect Barack Obama

We, the undersigned, of diverse faith traditions, stand together as brothers and sisters dedicated to finding solutions to global warming and the threat it poses to Creation. We urge you to take swift and meaningful action to avoid catastrophic climate change.

Global warming is a moral crisis that people of faith care deeply about. It endangers the lifesupport systems for all that God created and puts the most vulnerable at immediate risk. It is the world’s poor, who have contributed least to this problem, who will suffer the most.

Inaction cannot be an option. Interfaith Power and Light represents over 5,000 congregations of
all major religions throughout the country. For the past eight years, our congregations have been
changing light bulbs, installing solar rooftops and geo-thermal systems and shrinking our carbon
footprints. We’ve shown that it can be done. But we know that our actions alone will not be
enough to stem the tide of global warming.

It is past time for the U.S. to take a leadership role in this crisis. You have thoughtfully addressed climate change policy in your campaign and have embraced clean energy policy solutions. As president, we ask you to enact those solutions into law.

Please act quickly to ensure the future of our planet, and of generations to come, by implementing our clean energy agenda:

1. Make Climate Policies Equitable and Just
• Provide energy efficiency to low-income families
• Create 5 million green collar jobs
• Provide adaptation assistance to undeveloped nations
2. Green the Electricity Sector
• Move America toward a 100% clean energy future by maximizing energy efficiency,
modernizing the grid, and greatly expanding power generation from renewable energy
3. Cap Emissions and Auction the Permits
• Reduce emissions by 35% below 1990 levels by 2020 and 80% by 2050
• Work with other nations to accelerate these reductions as needed to avoid further warming
beyond 2º F
• Auction 100% of credits and direct revenue to developing a massive clean energy
transition, creating green jobs, and protecting vulnerable communities
4. Clean up Transportation
• Invest in clean mass transit infrastructure, increase fuel economy standards, and develop
alternative fuels
5. Stop New Coal
• Put a moratorium on new coal-fired power plants until and unless carbon emissions can be
captured and permanently sequestered

Kids Say the Most Amazing Things: Confirmation Class 2008

Question: What do you get when you take four most thoughtful, compassionate, committed Jewish teens, with whom I have studied Judaism for eight to twelve years, and put them together up on the bimah at Erev Shabbat services?

Answer: A very moving Confirmation Class service.

Congregation Or Ami’s service last night was deeply meaningful. Our Confirmands – Alex Krasnoff, Ross Meyer, Jonny Wixen, and Sarah Wolfson – led the prayers and in between, offered their reflections on a series of questions:

  • If asked by a non-Jewish person what you cherish about Judaism, what would you say?
  • What do you believe or think about God?
  • Having studied Judaism for 10-13 years, what ideas or parts of Judaism are most significant or meaningful for you?
  • What has Judaism taught you that will help you later in life?
  • How do you feel connected to Israel?
  • When have you felt the most Jewish and why?

Some of their responses include:

If asked by a non-Jewish person what you cherish about Judaism, what would you say? I would talk about Tikkun Olam, or fixing the world. What is most important to me about Judaism is that Jews care about more than just our community but also the world. At every Jewish camp or temple I have ever attended, there has always been an emphasis on community service. Community service is something that I love and my passion for helping others is influenced heavily by the Jewish community and Judaism. It is great to be a member of a faith that is comprised of a community that cares about others.

If asked by a non-Jewish person what you cherish about Judaism, what would you say? I cherish Judaism because it provides me with a moral code about how to live my life. Judaism teaches that if I follow its laws, then I will live a productive and happy life. Judaism also allows me complete spiritual freedom. I do not have to be spiritual to be Jewish. I do not have to believe in that the biblical times were historical, and yet I still am able to gain so much from Judaism. Judaism has not taught me one particular thing that will help me later in life. Judaism has shaped HOW I live my life. Many of my most defining characteristics are either due to Jewish teachings or from my experiences in my Jewish community. I live a Jewish life. I learned many of my morals and beliefs through Jewish teachings, and I strive to life my life as Judaism teaches me.

One of the most meaningful things I have learned throughout my studies it to be accepting of others. It is important to accept other people for who they are and what they believe in. Not only does it help to prevent problems, by not dwelling on peoples differences, but also you might become friends with them. Another thing I have learned it to help those in need. One of the reasons helping those in need is important is because if you were in need, you would want someone to help you. The reason I like to help those in need is the wonderful feeling I receive from helping someone else.

What has Judaism taught you that will help you later in life? Judaism is full of life changing ideas and lessons. I know that I will use my studies later in life to help me make large decisions and live a fulfilling life. Judaism teaches us to be patient with one another, which I feel is really important if I want to go far and be happy. The idea of repentance on Rosh Hashana is an extremely important idea to me. I feel that it is crucial to reflect, but not regret, and then in a healthy way move on. If I can live these values, which Judaism has taught me, I know I will go far.

Having studied Judaism for 10-13 years, what ideas of Judaism are most meaningful for you? Judaism, at least Reform Judaism, has adapted to modern times. We are not forced to follow traditions just because that is how it has always been done, when those rituals have no relative meaning to modern times. Also, Judaism allows me to choose what I believe in and yet still provides a way to live my life to its fullest. This is what I love about Judaism the most, that Judaism instructs on how to live a successful Jewish life, yet does not require you to believe in every aspect of Judaism.

Rabbi Kipnes teaches that the strength of Judaism is its teaching that every aspect our Torah and tradition is open to questioning and challenge. Even the existence of God…

What do you believe or think about God? I do not believe that God exists. I prefer to believe that in a society as advanced as ours, people can be weaned off of the opiate of the masses. I do think that there is a place for religion without God. I think that religion is a great place to build a safe community, and to teach valuable morals and lessons. It is not that I ever lost my faith in God. It is that I never had it. To be frank, I think that science makes a much more logical and compelling case for creation. I believe that history makes a better case than the bible, although I think that neither science nor history account for life’s little unexplainable miracles.

What do you believe or think about God? Deism is the belief that God created the world but has no business in it today. I do not believe that God is someone that directly controls our daily lives. I believe more in free will instead than destiny. My understanding of God is slightly different from the God in which most people seem to believe. I believe that God is what you make for yourself.

In what ways do you feel connected to Israel? I wish I had a stronger relationship with Israel, the Holy Land. I feel connected in the sense that it is our ancestor’s land and that I have read and been taught many wonderful things about it. But I have never been. I want to go to Israel very soon. If I am fortunate enough, I will go on my birthright trip within the next few years to deepen my connection.

In what ways do you feel connected to Israel? I never really felt a connection to Israel until I visited Israel with Congregation Or Ami’s first Family Trip two winters ago. I found Israel to be a magical, beautiful place. I developed a connection to Israel the more I thought about how Israel was a nation that had risen from a horrible tragedy, existing among unfriendly neighbors. There is something very powerful about having a Jewish state in such an unfriendly and extremist area. I think that Israel is something that we need to protect for not only historical reasons but also because regardless of its past, today it is a Jewish state with Jewish families, people who have made their lives there. That right to exist must be protected. It is in that cause that I feel most connected to Israel.

I feel connected to Israel not only through the fact that I am Jewish but also through the friends I made that live in Israel. The first time I went to Israel I was too young to really appreciate it. Then in the 6th grade, I went back to Israel to visit my Great Grandmother and it was so meaningful that I do not know how to explain what I felt when I was there. Then last summer I was a counselor at my summer camp and became friends with a group of Israelis. Now I am trying to find time to go back to Israel so I can visit them and see the sights once more.

When have you felt the most Jewish and why? I felt most Jewish a few summers ago as I stood before a row of cribs in South-east Vietnam. I had traveled there with my parents and other Or Ami members on Or Ami’s Humanitarian Mission to the Orphanages in Vietnam. I felt most Jewish not just because I was with a group from the temple, but because of the emotions that I felt during those three weeks. I knew that being there was crucial to my growth and development as a boy becoming a man. That experience showed me that there are so many things to be thankful for and that it is our duty to give back whatever and whenever. It illuminated for me the Jewish ideal of Mitzvot, that we all have the responsibility because of our good fortunate to give back to others.

When have you felt the most Jewish and why? I felt most Jewish when I hosted a foreign exchange student from Spain and she attend a High Holy Day service with me. Before the service, I had to explain Judaism to her. Although I do not believe in God, I found in explaining Judaism to her, that I do have an extraordinary connection to the community and the lessons of our religion.

Torah Alive!

My friend, Rabbi Arnie Sleutelberg of Shir Tikvah in Troy, Michigan, reports that his congregation is about to celebrate the completion of a Torah they commissioned to have written. How amazing is that? According to the Detroit Free Press:

The project, called Torah Alive!, was started last year and includes the contributions of 500 people from the 750-member congregation; with the help of another artist, the individual members helped write part of the new scroll with their own hands, guided by his expert hands.”It’s an absolute joy to be part of this,” said Michael Silverstein, a Shir Tikvah member and co-chair of Torah Alive!

All involved say that scribing a Torah was both beautiful and meaningful:

“Her calligraphy happens to be outstanding,” said Sleutelberg, often called Rabbi Arnie. “We are receiving a phenomenal Torah scroll filled with grace, beauty and content.”

The Dec. 13 ceremony will feature many of the traditions seen at Jewish weddings. The scroll will be brought in under a canopy known as a chuppah, and there will be wedding music, the signing of a wedding document, the breaking of 35 glasses — even a wedding cake.

“We’re a very creative congregation,” said Rabbi Arnie. “The overriding intent is to create a holy convocation, both solemn and festive.”

How cool is that!?!

An Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Marriage Equality

The Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing passed around AN OPEN LETTER TO RELIGIOUS LEADERS ON MARRIAGE EQUALITY. It spoke eloquently, with the support of a diverse group of interfaith religious leaders (including myself), about relational justice, about the significance of marriage and family, and about the importance of marriage equality. Two paragraphs particularly speak loudly in the current climate:

From a religious perspective, marriage is about entering into a holy covenant and
making a commitment with another person to share life’s joys and sorrows. Marriage is valued
because it creates stable, committed relationships; provides a means to share economic
resources; and nurtures the individual, the couple, and children. Good marriages benefit the
community and express the religious values of long‐term commitment, generativity, and
faithfulness. In terms of these religious values, there is no difference in marriages between a
man and a woman, two men, or two women. Moreover, as our traditions affirm, where there is
love, the sacred is in our midst.

Marriage is an evolving civil and religious institution. In the past, marriage was
primarily about property and procreation whereas today the emphasis is on egalitarian
partnership, companionship, and love. In the past, neither the state nor most religions
recognized divorce and remarriage, interracial marriage, or the equality of the marriage
partners. These understandings changed, and rightly so, in greater recognition of the
humanity of persons and their moral and civil rights. Today, we are called to embrace another
change, this time the freedom of same‐sex couples to marry.

Read more also at Jews for Marriage Equality

Conviction: Love Story, Religious Persecution, Poignant Performance

Last night, in the new and beautiful Calabasas Civic Center outdoor amphitheater, we watched the brilliant one man play, Conviction. It was a poignant production made all the more moving by the powerful performance of Ami Dayan (the play’s director, sole performer and co-translator).

Conviction is based on a true story of a beautiful love affair doomed by religious persecution in Inquisition Spain. In present day Madrid, an Israeli scholar is detained and questioned by a Spanish official for stealing a confidential Inquisition file. Together, interrogator and interrogated, are drawn by the files, wrinkled yellow pages into the torrid love affair of the converted Spanish priest Andres Gonzalez, and his Jewish wife, Isabel.

We who grew up in the Holocaust generation consider that horror to be the yardstick by which to measure man’s inhumanity to man. Though the Nazi Holocaust has significant roots in Christian anti-semitism (and though the Church was more than complicit in the Nazi’s work), nonetheless, the Nazis practiced a more secular form of genocide. With Conviction, we are reminded that history is littered with the inhumane misuse of religion as an instrument of death and destruction. The Inquisition of the 15th century, though reflecting significant political machinations between the rulers of Spain, the Pope and surrounding monarchs, nonetheless represented the use of a religious institution – the Church – to carry out (and bless!) the forced conversion, murder and exile of a people. Modern Islamic extremists seem to take a page from the dark story of the Inquisition.

I was honored to co-lead a talk-back with Ami Dayan and a Christian Deacon, following the play. The audience was full of comments: about Mr. Dayan’s amazing performance, about whether religion is inherently an instrument of evil, how the play has affected Mr. Dayan’s Jewish and Israeli identity.

For me, one of the most fascinating elements of the play was the singing of a portion of Kol Nidre. Kol Nidre, the most solemn prayer intoned by the Chazan (Cantor) on Yom Kippur, the holiest day of the Jewish year, provides forgiveness to those who have made vows under duress. More than one modern scholar has suggested that the prayer survives in our liturgy only because its music so touches our hearts and souls. What modern Jew would countenance a prayer which forgives us for vows made under duress, when few of us in these modern times make such vows. Yet here, in the play Conviction, we see the words of Kol Nidre spoken more to their purpose: seeking forgiveness for the thousands of conversos (crypto-Jews) who converted to Christianity to save their lives, while still secretly practicing Judaism as children.

Bravo to Mr. Ami Dayan for his performance and his co-writer Mark Williams, to Linda Purl and all of the principals in the Rubicon International Theatre Festival, to the Calabasas City for supporting this production and making it the first cultural presentation in the new Calabasas Civic Center. I hope that one day we can bring Mr. Dayan back to Calabasas so that others may learn from his poignant producction.

New Survey Data Sparks New Debate over Intermarriage Picture

It is too early in the morning to analyze the significance of these new studies on intermarriage, but they are sure to cause a stir… and give our Jewish community plenty to consider.

JTA (12/28/07) offers this article: Survey data spark debate over intermarriage picture.

Now a new round of studies is prompting more questions: Does intermarriage necessarily mean the end of that family’s connection to Judaism? Or is the Jewish community focusing on intermarriage to the exclusion of other, perhaps more telling, factors?

Most studies report the data in simple comparative fashion, which shows that intermarried families are much less Jewishly involved than inmarried families, from their beliefs to their practices.

But a provocative new study out of Brandeis University questions that research method and its conclusions.

The study — “It’s Not Just Who Stands Under the Chuppah: Jewish Identity and Intermarriage,” by Leonard Saxe, Fern Chertok and Benjamin Phillips of the Cohen Center for Jewish Studies and Steinhardt Social Research Institute — found that when one considers the Jewish background of the Jewish partner in an intermarriage, the difference in the Jewish beliefs and practices of inmarried and intermarried families becomes much less glaring.

Equally compelling is the “second generation” statistic:,

Among those who is not convinced by the Saxe-Chertok line of argument is Steven Cohen, a professor of Jewish social policy at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion in New York. Cohen has conducted several studies that all show the determinative effect of intermarriage.

Cohen’s first question is how the researchers defined “being raised Jewish.” But he also says they need to look at the second generation: According to the 2000-2001 NJPS study, just 13 percent of the grandchildren of an intermarriage — that is, people whose grandparents were intermarried — now identify as Jews.

On those grounds alone, Cohen declared, the Jewish community should “not grow complacent” about intermarriage but should continue to combat it as a real threat to Jewish continuity.

Look for some sharp arguments about all this data, its meaning, and how to respond…