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Rabbi's Message

Rabbi Mars' weekly email messages.

Crossing Borders and Boundaries (6/22/18)

I had the pleasure of visiting many of our Temple Israel kids at Camps Wise and Emma Kaufmann this week, watching them bask in the freedom of summer and the joy of Jewish learning.  I find it hard to square that with a concurrent reality: that of children and parents being separated from one another and separately detained due to America's "Zero Tolerance" immigration policy dealing with illegal entries to the U.S.  It is impossible to fathom the conditions that allow one reality to exist alongside the other.  And it makes me and many others ask, "How can this be happening here?" and "Haven't we seen something like this before?"

A recent article in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz notes the disturbing comparisons some Jews are making between the family separations at the U.S. border and those that happened in the 1930s to our own people.  While one side points out the harsh realities of the present moment that echo the past (" Images of children being held at 'tender age' shelters behind wire fences and in cage-like enclosures, far from their parents, and recordings of them crying and wailing"- Allison Kaplan Sommer), the other insists that the Holocaust was unique and that the juxtaposition is patently false ("It is repugnant, ridiculous, morally bankrupt, and even borders on denying the Holocaust to analogize U.S. border policy to the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust"- Morton Klein, ZOA).

This debate, for me, is not as useful as the directive I would urge us all to take to heart.  In a statement made against the family separation policy by the Anti-Defamation League, ADL CEO Jonathan Greenblatt said:  "People need to be extremely careful in drawing comparisons to the Holocaust and the Nazi regime in whatever context it is used.  Instead of investing our energy into whether or not a particular comparison crossed a line, the lesson we should learn from that dark time is that all good people need to speak out clearly and quickly when morally abhorrent actions are taken by those in power against any group."

I will be saying more about the Jewish take on this current and pressing issue tomorrow night at Erev Shabbat services.  Meantime, we as a congregation need not feel powerless in the face of this situation.  There is plenty to do and you can add your voice in support of just immigration policies that keep families together by taking action as recommended by the Reform Movement's Religious Action Center.  For TI's part, we are collecting toiletries and toys to send to children being held at McAllen, TX.  Bring your donations to the JCC this Friday or next, or bring them to our office on E. Broad St. during the week.  We'll be shipping our collection a week from this Sunday.

May our past bless us with the courage to act in this present moment for a moral and just future for all.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Sharon Mars

The Power of Presence (6/8/18)

Among my most impactful learning experiences as a young rabbi-to-be was when I served as a chaplain at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles about 25 years ago.  Though I was "all in" in my desire to do bikkur holim (visiting the sick), I was caught unaware when my supervisor, Rabbi Levi Meir of blessed memory, gave me my marching orders on my very first day at the hospital: to make my rounds to the sick Jews there and provide them with comfort and blessing.  I remember being taken aback:  "But, how will I know what to say?"  To which my mentor answered without batting an eye: "It's not about what you say.  It's about being present for another human being."

That wisdom has stuck with me as a guiding light all these years later, and it can serve all of us well.  So, how can we each be fully present, especially for someone feeling weak and vulnerable due to illness?  Jewish tradition underscores the importance of that sacred availability and holy accessibility when it prescribes the "how-to's" of bikkur holim:  "It is a mitzvah incumbent upon everyone to visit the sick.  Even a person of great spiritual stature visits one of lesser stature.  One [may] visit many times during the day.  Whoever increases the frequency of his vists is praiseworthy, provided he does not become burdensome.  Whoever visits a sick person removes a portion of [her] sickness and relieves [her]" (Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Laws of Mourning 14:4-6).

It's not easy to visit a person who is sick and may be struggling with health issues.  It takes steadfastness and courage to enter a sick person's room and simply "be there" for him.  Just showing up is half the battle.  But it is for that very reason that bikkur holim is a Jewish value and a serious Jewish commitment we make -- even without having to say so -- to one another.  So we need to visit and visit regularly, even by phone, no matter who we are, no matter who that person is, because it truly is a healing balm.  It's part of how we "do" as a Jewish community.  And it's what enables us to be, through sickness and in health, all that we can and should be for each other.

Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi Sharon Mars

The Joys of Adolescence (6/1/18)

Our Torah paints a not-so-flattering picture of our ancient ancestors in Parashat B'ha'alot'cha.  Faced with a menu of limited food options - meat, manna, and quail, they are smack in the middle of the desert, after all- the people kvetch to the high heavens:  “If only we had meat to eat! We remember the fish that we used to eat free in Egypt, the cucumbers, the melons, the leeks, the onions, and the garlic. Now our gullets are shriveled. There is nothing at all! Nothing but this manna to look to!” (Num.11:4-6)  It is as if this people had the memory of Egyptian bondage totally erased from their memories!

Our fearless leader's response?  He complains right back!  (You might call this the Torah's first "kvetch-a-kvetch"):  "And Moses said to God, “Why have You dealt ill with Your servant, and why have I not enjoyed Your favor, that You have laid the burden of all this people upon me?  Did I conceive all this people, did I bear them, that You should say to me, ‘Carry them in your bosom as a nurse carries an infant,’ to the land that You have promised on oath to their fathers?  Where am I to get meat to give to all this people, when they whine before me and say, ‘Give us meat to eat!’ I cannot carry all this people by myself, for it is too much for me.  ​If You would deal thus with me, kill me rather, I beg You, and let me see no more of my wretchedness!" (Num.11-15)

This sounds less like an ungrateful, colicky bunch of Israelites complaining in the wilderness to an equally frustrated Moses, and more like a teenager and parent fighting about how unfair life is.  And this exchange resonates deeply for me as the parent of three young adults, as this passage in Torah marks the very moment when God and the people- parent and child- start to individuate from one another. Apropos of the season we're in, the Jewish people are clearly ready to graduate- the rebelliousness that characterized their adolescence now gives way to a more mature relationship with the Divine.  And the parents- both the Holy One and Moses- want nothing more than to pack them up and send them on their way to a new future, highlighted by a new-born appreciation for one another.

So blessed be you, parents of graduating high school seniors- May you know the poignant joy of entering this new stage of parenthood.  And blessed be you, dear graduates- May you know the joy of your freedom, staying anchored in the wisdom of your parents, as you enter adulthood, responsibilities and all.  Looking forward to seeing you all tonight at our Summer Send-Off!

Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi Sharon Mars

Tue, September 18 2018 9 Tishrei 5779