Tuesday, November 2, 2010

How DO You Measure a Life?

[Editor's Note: There WAS a two-week hiatus on printed sermons -- for a full explanation of why, please catch up with my guest blog in Jim Schwartz' corner of the Weis Man blogosphere, and with my next entry here -- let me simply say that it is good to be back to (almost) full strength...]

How Do You Measure A Life?
Sermon for Chayei Sarah – October 29, 2010
Rabbi Steve Weisman – Temple Solel, Bowie, MD

In our portion on this Shabbat, Abraham returns home after the attempt to sacrifice Isaac, and we learn immediately of the death of Sarah. The tradition links those 2 statements into one, usually claiming that the reason for Sarah’s death was shock and heartbreak at how close Abraham came to actually sacrificing Isaac. Indeed, the traditional view that Isaac was 37 years old, and not a young lad himself, when this life-changing event occurred on the mountain, stems from this nexus of events.

Abraham, our role model and first Jewish ancestor, confronts the reality of his beloved life-partner’s death as any of us would – by making arrangements for her to have a proper burial in a proper burial site. These efforts lead to an almost comical negotiation for the purchase of the Cave of Machpelah, which becomes the family tomb in which all of the patriarchs and matriarchs except Rachel (but including Joseph) find their eventual resting place.

With those details taken care of, Abraham, again acting to maintain the strength of his family members, recognizes that the loss of Sarah will be a huge loss for Isaac, even moreso for whatever damage has been irreparably done to HIS relationship with his son. And so, he arranges for his servant to travel back to Haran to find a bride there for Isaac, so he will be looked after as well. That journey brings Rebekah into the family.

Lost in that traditional swimming against the stream when it comes to Isaac’s age at the time of the sacrifice, lost in the other aspects of the portion that are usually stressed, are two powerful truths. The first of those truths is that this portion, uniquely, is driven almost from beginning to end by WOMEN. Sarah’s death is the catalyst for all of Abraham’s actions in this chapter. Rebekah’s arrival on the scene establishes her rather remarkable place in the family structure and dynamic as the lead character of her generation.

But even more than that, from start to finish, this portion is about a concept that we have been looking closely at this year already – legacy. Although the word that I translate as legacy – toldot – does not appear here (it IS the name of next week’s portion, however!), it is clear that what we should be focused on throughout out recap of Sarah’s life, is its impact on others.

Sarah’s death leads Abraham, who, up until now, has been a wanderer rather than a landowner, to purchase a plot of land for her burial. In so doing, he becomes a landowner in what becomes Israel, and establishes a legacy for his family that reaches down to us still today. Our claim on Israel as the Jewish homeland stems, originally, from Abraham’s purchase of Machpelah – a powerful legacy indeed.

Sarah’s death leads Abraham to make sure Isaac is cared for, and brings Rebekah into the family. Rebekah – mother of twins. Rebekah -- who CLEARLY ran the household, and was the lead character, not Isaac, in that generation. Rebekah – with whom God spoke directly, and without whom, left to his own devices, Isaac might very well have passed the family legacy on to Esau and NOT Jacob!

But go back and look at Sarah’s role IN LIFE. She is there from the original lech l’cha – the original call to go forth. She is equally credited, along with Abraham, for bringing many followers of their theological revolution into the fold. It was Sarah who decided that Abraham needed a son – an heir, a legacy – that she apparently could not give him, and so offered her handmaid, Hagar, to him for that purpose.

It was Sarah who laughed when she overheard that she would, indeed, provide that legacy for her husband in their old age. It was Sarah who, after Isaac was born, worried about Ishmael’s presence and its impact on Abraham’s legacy, her son, and insisted that Ishmael and Hagar be sent packing.

And finally, it is Sarah’s presence as Isaac’s mother which Abraham avoids on the way out to follow God’s call. We usually look at Abraham’s early awakening in the morning, his punctilious personal attention to every detail of this sacrifice, as indicative of his worthiness before God. Last Shabbat, we recast it as an attempt to shift focus from the big picture to the small details – a desperate stalling tactic.

But tonight, what if the real truth, whether deliberate, or unintended consequence, is that Abraham’s early departure cut Sarah out of the loop, and prevented her from having any impact on his efforts to follow his perception of God’s command?! Could this TOO be part of Sarah’s legacy?! Might Abraham’s early departure have been deliberate, out of fear that if Sarah knew what was going on, she would try to stop it? ! That if he had to answer her questions as vaguely as he did with Isaac, she would not be nearly as accepting of his avoidances?!

If this is even remotely possible, then it seems to me that the ultimate result, as expressed in this week’s portion and amplified in the Midrash, that Sarah died AS A DIRECT result of hearing what had almost happened upon Abraham’s return, is even MORE likely to be at least somewhat accurate. If this is even remotely true then, in a real sense, Sarah’s death becomes part of the legacy of her life, triggered, in part, by her surprise at hearing the news that Abraham had deliberately withheld from her in advance, out of fear that she might succeed in blocking his efforts to follow God’s wishes! A first example of karma in the Torah!

But also, fittingly, a re-affirmation of Sarah’s strength and standing as an actor ON HER OWN. If Abraham had no reason to fear her intervention, no expectation that her desires might trump his own, then he would have had no reason, stemming from Sarah, to leave so early and avoid telling her until afterwards! No reason save the reason many of us in the same circumstance would still have done as he did – to spare the woman he loved from any unnecessary worry and fear for her son’s welfare, unless or until it became necessary to tell her that God really DID want Isaac as a sacrifice!

In other words, either Sarah’s character was clearly formidable in her own right, or else she was the reflection of Abraham’s true faith that God would, as occurred, relent at the last minute to spare Isaac. Either way, her legacy, and theirs as a couple, is profound indeed!

But let us change our focus for a second – and look to ourselves. What is our legacy to be? What are we leaving behind – individually and collectively – as more than mere evidence that we once existed here? What imprint are we making that will outlive us, and keep our memories and values alive? And what are the values that we want to leave behind for others?
We talked of this at the High Holy Days, as we identified the desire to establish a meaningful legacy as one of the ways of answering our need for survival. We talked of this when we dedicated our new Memorial Boards. We talked of it at the recent tragic death of Ben Toulotte.

For myself, between planning for David’s Bar Mitzvah, and the influx of responses to our invitations; and dealing with my own aging and mortality as I rehab my knee; and in the aftermath of last weekend’s remarkable celebration of OUR first 10 years together, this has also been a focus of late. In celebrating our 10 years together, in looking back and being able to see what we have accomplished, it is easy to see such an imprint that we are leaving for those who will follow us.

None of that happened as easily as the benefit of hindsight makes it appear. But, at the same time, none of it happened from waking up one morning and declaring “Let’s create some legacy!” and then bulldozing forward to make it happen! Most of the speakers last Saturday night were way too kind in crediting my role in much of what was discussed. For, in truth, much of what we have accomplished over these last 10 years has been a byproduct of being in the right place at the right time to make a suggestion, to know who to call for answers, advice, and help. The real effort here was in establishing and maintaining the contacts, of getting and staying involved in the life of the community, and being open to the possibilities and willing to risk failure when they presented themselves! I see THAT as my living legacy, even more than the outcomes it helped and still helps to create!

In preparing for my son’s celebration with our community and our family, it is easy to be proud of all that he has accomplished and to see him – and his sister – as a legacy of which I can be proud. For all of us blessed to have children, clearly, they are a large part of our legacy. This truth, is, in part, why Ben Toulotte’s passing felt even more tragic – how do you comfort a grieving grandparent? A piece of what we all felt would be his legacy was now gone…

But, as any parent will tell you, our children do NOT always reflect what we would necessarily like our legacy to be! How we raise them to be the good people we hope they will be, to live by the values that we would emphasize as our legacy, these are critical components in our success in creating children who ARE more than just our physical legacy.

And in dealing appropriately with our own aging, human frailties, and weaknesses – here too we have a chance to create a lasting legacy. By showing those who will follow how we deal with our frustrations, our shortcomings, our slowing down – hopefully with wisdom and grace – we give ourselves one more opportunity to be role models, one more chance to leave behind something of value and worth to others.

This is the message with which Mitch Albom first touched our hearts in “Tuesday’s with Morrie.” This can and should be a guiding principle for each of us as we age gracefully, and seek to continue to develop programs dealing with the changed demographics of the Jewish community in general, and the uniqueness that is our own Solel family as we move towards our 50th birthday together, and more of our members reach life milestones that our grandparents could only marvel at achieving.

Who better to create our communal legacy than those who are living their lives at these various moments within them? Who better to teach us about the joys and challenges of older age than those who are enjoying it, and those who are troubled by its downside? Who better to create programming and resources for active Jewish grandparenting and great-grandparenting, empty-nesting, or the true meaning of retirement than those who are living that reality that others of us will, God-willing, soon get to enjoy and be challenged by!

THIS is how, individually and collectively, we can learn the lessons of Chayei Sarah, how we can keep alive the legacy of her powerful life, every bit as much as her more recognized husband’s legacy, in our own lives as Jews. And if there is no place in our legacy for embrace of Abraham AND Sarah, then I have to wonder how we recognize ourselves as Jews! Just sayin’! KYR

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

The Value of Belonging

The Value of Belonging – Sermon for Parshat No’ach – Oct. 9, 2010
Rabbi Steve Weisman – Temple Solel, Bowie MD

Noah. We all know the story. Big boat. Big flood. Two by two. 40 days and 40 nights. The dove and the olive branch. The rainbow. Bill Cosby. Rise and Shine. The Clancy Brothers and the Last Unicorn.

It is probably safe to say that this is among the best known stories in the Torah. And yet, there is always more to find in it, more to learn. In the immortal words of the beloved Rabbi ben Bag Bag – Turn it, and turn it again, for everything is in it. The more we look at the text, the more we experience in our lives, the more wisdom we can gain from the story.

Over the years, I have talked about and heard about wonderful sermons about Mrs. Noah. I have spoken and heard of the innocence of the sea creatures, based on the method of destruction of the rest of the world. I have heard scientific treatises on how much rain and water it would have taken to completely flood the entire earth. I have heard speculation about how much food would have been needed for their survival on the waters, even about what they did with all the animal poop created, and how the predatory animals were kept away from the smaller animals that could have served as dinner for them.

In fact, in our 7th grade class this last Sunday, we did the math about how long Noah and his family and the animals were on the Ark. It rained for 40 days. The waters rose for another 150. Then it took 40 more days for things to begin to calm down and for the waters to begin to recede. Then there were 4 more 7 day intervals – first between flights of the birds from the Ark, then from the last such trip until landfall.

That is a total of 258 days. One day short of 37 weeks. Roughly 8 ½ months. In the modern world, with all of our science and technology, even though we know that human gestation is a 40 week process, it usually takes about 3 weeks for anyone to even become aware that they might be pregnant. The time lapse from that awareness to delivery matches the amount of time the Ark was on the water! Hmmmm!

And this is quite likely no accident, no coincidence. After all, given that Noah, his wife, their three sons and their wives were the only human survivors of the Flood, that the animals on board were the sole survivors of their species, with the exception of that which lives in the water, and possibly some of the birds, that could land on the Ark for rest before taking off again, even it they weren’t passengers, the entire human race and most of the animal kingdom trace their ancestry back to those who were on the Ark. Therefore, if the story of the Flood is not, as some suggest, merely another Creation story, then it certainly IS a story of rebirth.

And a rebirth that, like the original Creation story, began from and in the water that covered the earth. A motif consistent across virtually EVERY Ancient Near Eastern people, of life emerging from the water. A rebirth following a gestation period eerily similar to the length of the human cycle. A rebirth still symbolically recreated in the rituals connected to the miqvah – the ritual bath from which Jewish converts emerge reborn as Jews.

I had never tied all of those pieces together in this way until this past week, but when I did, it was a powerful awareness that emerged. But then, as often is the case, events conspired to create an even greater awareness. So let me ask this additional question about our story – how many of us have ever thought about the Flood from the perspective of the animals on the Ark? With the exception of speculation about unicorns, how many of us have ever considered the Flood from the perspective of the animals that did NOT get on the boat?

Let us refer to those who got the memo, who recognized the value of being at the right place at the right time, who stayed involved in the human story through and after the Flood as “members.” And then, let us look at those, who, by definition, would NOT be “members.” The ones who were left behind and drowned. Could there be a more dramatic and obvious example of the values of membership?!

Yet, in truth, it often takes examples almost this stark to help us remember that value of membership. This week, the Bowie and local Jewish communities suffered a tragic loss. The 22 year old son of a three-generation Bowie family died in Florida. He happens to be the first Bar Mitzvah I had the privilege to celebrate with here 10 years ago. His family are no longer members here.
That last piece of information is significant – to me, if to no one else. It creates for me a severe cognitive dissonance. On the one hand, as a Rabbi, as a Jew, I feel acutely My responsibility to this family and this young man – to help them deal with this incredible tragedy, to try to find a way to make his life, and perhaps his death, mean something significant and valuable to his family and others, that he might live on through that legacy.

However, on the other hand, my hands are tied in some significant ways, because the connection and relationship with his family is not as strong and as whole as it could and would have been if they were still participating members of our congregation. In addition, I do, even in moments like this, still have obligations to those who ARE members of this congregational family, who do support our institution and my presence here, by your generosity and continuing involvement. Those obligations require me to limit my availability to those who do not choose to support Temple Solel as continuing members, even in cases like this.

I have reached out to the family. I will officiate at the funeral, on Sunday afternoon, even though doing so requires me to clip a couple of minor corners in commitments to our congregation. And if there are those who have a problem with any of those decisions, I will respect their right to disagree with what I choose to do for myself as a Jew.

However, when the family asked, for reasons of logistics, if they could hold the service in our sanctuary, I felt the need to tell them that this would not happen, no matter how much I understood the logic and value of their request. And, to their credit, they understood and graciously accepted my response. In addition, I did not feel comfortable sending out an e-mail to the congregation to acknowledge this death. I did, however, reach out to several individual members of our congregation who I knew had connections to the family, to make sure they knew and to see how they are fairing.

And I did not make my Rabbinical services available to them to organize and lead shiva services. I DID make sure that the funeral home with whom they are working was aware of this fact, so THEY could provide prayerbooks for the family to use. If I attend the shiva house, it will be as an individual Jew. But we also will read Ben’s name tonight and for the next several weeks, in memory.
These were not, are not, easy decisions for me to make. I do not like having to triage myself, do not like to make the calculations needed in a case like this. I would much prefer to simply help the family and our community in every way I can.

The problem is that, in this case, as happens far too often in modern Jewish life, I am forced to balance between the competing pulls of obligation to individual Jews and obligations to My congregation, usually caused when the individual Jews have made the free choice NOT to maintain membership in the congregation. In the complex world in which we live today, some of the reasons for discontinuing a membership actually are understandable. Many have a logic, but not necessarily one that works for those of us who do not make it.

I share this with you tonight in part because I can connect this message to our Torah text for this Shabbat. I share it to increase understanding of the challenges we face every day in the modern Jewish world.

But most of all, I share it in the hope that a piece of Ben’s legacy might be that through this better awareness, through the stark example of how his family’s current non-membership status has and will impact my ability to respond and help them mourn his tragic passing, he, and they, might serve as a lesson to someone in our congregation, perhaps even someone in this room tonight. Perhaps, through knowing in greater detail than usually shared exactly what decisions I, and we, have made, and why, we might cause someone who might now or in the future be on the fence about continuing their membership to think twice, and maintain their connection to our congregational family.

Because the truth is that the greatest value of being part of the congregational family is NOT in attending High Holy Day services; not in being able to send our children to religious school; not even in other opportunities which, honestly, are usually open to anyone. No, the real value of membership is MEMBERSHIP – of being part of a larger communal family that adds meaning to our lives and our experience, that allows us to better have our needs met, that allows others not to have to calculate how much of their authentic response to us in good times and bad they can afford to give to us when we need it most.

Imagine what it would have been like to be the THIRD shafan, the offspring of the 2 chosen to ride the Ark, waking up in the morning as the water rose above your nose as you slept on the forest floor, looking up to see the doors of the Ark closed, the ramp gone, your parents looking down at you with concern in their eyes, helpless to do anything to save you from what was about to occur. Imagine, and then make a promise to yourself never to act in a way that puts you in that same position. Because, in talking with Ben’s family, one of the things his death is already teaching them is the importance of staying connected with those who matter. And I would love to save all of us from needing the death of a 22 year old relative to teach us that important truth. KYR

Beginning Again -- But What Exactly are We Beginning?

Beginning Again – But What Exactly are We Beginning
Sermon for Parshat B’reishit – Friday October 1, 2010
Rabbi Steve Weisman, Temple Solel, Bowie, MD

I am going to tread VERY lightly this evening into a very deep subject. And I am at the same time going to be as unsubtle as I know how to be. A contradiction? Better – a mystery! I begin by acknowledging our Bat Mitzvah and her family – Morgan. This, in itself, is NOT unusual – it WOULD be unusual if I did NOT find a way to acknowledge her. She deserves our acknowledgment – as does her family – this is a significant milestone she and they are celebrating AS PART OF OUR COMMUNITY AND WITH US, as she becomes our newest Jewish adult member.

Someone many years ago made a comment to me on such an occasion. They said something to the effect of “I love that you make the bat mitzvah and her family feel so important and special on their special day. And how next week, you will make THAT bar mitzvah and HIS family feel so special and important.”!! Although I am honestly still not sure whether this person’s ultimate motive in making the comment (and let me add, for the record, that this conversation did not first occur here!) was benign or malignant, what I chose to hear in their words was an appreciation of the tap dance that I, and all others who celebrate personal milestones in public functions as part of a community’s expected ritual, face. On the one hand, each celebrant is entitled to feel special and appreciated in their turn; on the other, having to publicly express that appreciation over and over risks becoming clich├ęd and losing its impact!

There is another more hidden trap – one made explicit by Jewish teachings on loshen hara – literally, “evil speech.” Most of the aspects of loshen hara are obvious and beyond debate. Such is the power of words to do damage, often unintentionally. Our sages went so far, however, as to teach us to be careful in giving compliments, even when deserved. They understood, as I do after 20 years of doing this, that someone might take an unintended inference in your words of praise of someone else that their own efforts were not worthy of such praise, and therefore, less appreciated.

A long introductory JTM – Jewish teachable moment – to get to this statement – every time there is a Bar or Bat Mitzvah to celebrate with, I make a joking point to invite those who are disappointed in not hearing us read Torah tonight to join us tomorrow when the kids read. And I did so again tonight, in exactly the same way I always do!
And tonight, also as I always do, I am going out of my way NOT to step on Morgan’s message that she will deliver tomorrow in any way. But then, I am going to add the following statement of why I am being particularly careful tonight: I have heard and read Morgan’s D’var Torah for tomorrow. And while I take pride in being the Rabbi of Lake Wobegon, where all our children are above average, if you can get here for tomorrow morning to hear THIS message, you owe it to yourself to do so – her message is that good! Anyone who feels slighted by this extra appreciation of THIS message very well derived and presented – please just let it pass, and give yourself the chance to understand where my admiration comes from by being here to hear it for yourself, tomorrow!

Fortunately, our portion for this Shabbat is B’reishit – truly an embarrassment of riches. Even with Morgan addressing several hot button points in the portion, I still have a huge number of choices for my remarks this evening! We could talk about Cain and Abel, and the incredible intensity of sibling emotions and rivalry – for good, or for evil, and how it impacts us as an extended congregational family! We could talk about Adam and Eve and the serpent, in any one of a half dozen different ways – including a rather brilliant hypothesis expressed by our own Steve Cohen, who postulates that God KNEW that Adam and Eve would fail the test and eat from the tree of knowledge, and that, in fact, this was not only a desired outcome, but a necessary one! We can learn from the 2 versions of the creation of man and woman about gender roles and equality. Or more.

But tonight I want to talk tonight about a single word – the first word – B’reishit. A word we think we understand, but probably don’t. We think we get it, because, for years, we were taught that “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” B’reishit – we know the bet at the beginning means “in,” the members of the advanced class recognize the root reish, aleph, shin, as in Rosh, as in Rosh Hashanah. So, presto, we accept “in the beginning.” Except….

There turns out to be only two problems with that translation for b’reishit – one is grammatical and linguistic; the other is philosophical and contextual. Or, restated more accurately, “in the beginning” is a nice translation. Nice, but relatively useless if our goal is true understanding of how we began!

Let me try to explain. Philosophically, )and Morgan will actually deal with this aspect tomorrow morning,) “In the beginning, God created the heaven and the earth,” means to most of us that first, when God began to make the universe, God began by creating the heaven and the earth. Even God had to start somewhere!
Which leads to the obvious question, which was first so eloquently put to me by a 5 year-old about 20 years ago “If God created everything, Who (or What) created God?” The philosophers have dodged this question for years by defining God as being beyond the realm of time – nice, but again, not terribly helpful, especially in answering that 5 year old! The scientists, and pseudo-scientists, have long posited that this indicates the arrival to our portion of the cosmos (from somewhere else) a super-being, capable of manipulating matter in ways we still cannot explain, to “create” new objects and life forms.

In other words, this statement, rendered as we have it, forces us either immediately into the “leap of faith” – that is accepting as true that for which we have no clear proof, or else searching for equally improbable and unprovable “scientific” explanations – all because of putting a temporal causality on Creation by understanding that “In the beginning,” God already existed, and fashioned objects called “heaven” and “earth” first. Again, nice, but not helpful, and therefore, to be avoided if possible.

Add to the philosophical issue the contextual one – understood in this way, the first verse is not true, unless we understand the concepts of “heaven” and “earth” only in the most rudimentary and generic of ways. Because, in truth, it is on the SECOND “day” (and don’t get me started about what the word “day” really means here!) that God, by creating the expanse that separated the waters above from the waters below, created “heaven” – in fact the name “shamayim” – heaven -- is given on the second day to the waters above the divider! Likewise, it is only on the third day, when the waters below are gathered together to form seas and oceans, that the dry land masses appear as a result – and these are called “eretz” – earth. In other words, that which is “created” at the outset according to verse one is not defined by further creative action or by the definition of the terms used in verse one until days 2 and 3!

Still with me? Good! Because now we can turn to the word itself. The form of the noun reishit (having removed the bet prefix) is difficult. The noun in this form doesn’t exist alone – it is ONLY found in combinational forms with other nouns to give more specific understanding (the concept sounds confusing, but think of “school bus” – a specific kind of bus -- or the anachronistic “phone booth” – a specific kind of booth). It most accurately should be understood as “the beginning of” something, with the necessity of that specific something being clearly stated in the text. In this verse, that expected second noun that would provide clarity is absent!
So wait, Rabbi, are you telling us that Torah begins with a typo!!?? Well, not exactly. I AM saying that the Torah begins with an unexpectedly deficient grammatical form, that greatly complicates our complete and confident understanding of how the word should be translated into our native English. Or, put in a different way, the beginning of the Torah text, like the origins of Creation itself, or even God’s origins, is shrouded in mystery that we mortals are not fully able to unravel! And, when restated that way, suddenly, all of my problems with the word b’reishit disappear!

Except for two practical ones – first, how do we express all of this in a simple and clear translation? In truth, we don’t – if our goal is to express all the depth and nuance the Hebrew contains with how we say it in English, we actually face the harder challenge of translating it into English in a way that equally expresses in the mystery! In short, our best translation should be philosophically artistic rather than linguistically accurate, since the likelihood of doing both at the same time is small!

Part of the challenge is whether we are hearing or reading the translation? When I speak the words to be heard, I am likely to lean on linguistic accuracy, because the artistry of the mystery will not fully be captured in the delivery of the words. But, in writing a translation for others to read, I can utilize ellipsis in unexpected ways to capture the sense that something deeper is missing, but intended to be sensed!

And so, I give you this effort:

“At the outset … of God’s creation of the heavens and the earth (and all that is in them),”! In written form, both the (seemingly unnecessary) ellipsis and the use of parentheses hint at the larger mystery contained in the Hebrew and the philosophical challenges that mystery creates. In oral form, we still hear that there is more to this verse than a complete understanding, even if only in its connection, by comma, to the next verse, rather than being ended definitively by a period. We acknowledge the introductory nature of the verse, by adding to the words, parenthetically, details that come later. In short, we start, but do not finish; we do not separate the verse to stand alone, but force it to lead us into all that follows – by making it one flow of dependent clauses – the heaven and the earth are dependent on God’s creation, which is, in turn, dependent on whatever that mysterious beginning really was!

And then, there is the second practical question -- what exactly are we starting with this word? In some very profound and obvious ways, the answer is everything. And yet, at the same time, particularly in our tradition of reading the entire Torah text annually from beginning to end, each year, as we emerge from the High Holy Days completely after Simchat Torah, as we do this Shabbat, we start AGAIN by starting FROM THE BEGINNING. By our usage, God’s initial creation, ex nihilo – from nothing (which distinguishes God from us!) – is, in practice, a RECREATION, observed to start each new year, and each new cycle of gaining wisdom from the Torah!

This may be the most power lesson of all for us! As we truly start our new Jewish year, as we celebrate the apparent victory of having been inscribed for another year of life, we seek to act on those “New Year’s resolutions” that our atonement seeking made us aware were needed in our lives. We do NOT seek to recreate ourselves from scratch – that would be virtually impossible. We DO, however, seek to recreate ourselves in a new and improved version 5771.0, gaining from the mysteries that came before of why we were not the best we could be, in order to build a stronger and better self, family, congregation, community, nation, and world. We begin with a clean slate, on the one hand, the past wiped out as if we WERE starting from scratch. But we begin still as who we are, still very much the same flawed humans whose survival was an open question just 2 weeks ago, and not yet as who we hope to be – as we recreate ourselves more in God’s “image” of perfection as the year goes on and we grow! Even in our beginnings of our new Jewish year, we find that aura of the unknown and unknowable at this moment – that which we hope for, but which has not yet come to be!

All from one single challenging word! Imagine what Morgan will do tomorrow with the entire rest of the text!! Or better still – don’t imagine! Find out! KYR!

Divrei HaRav -- Words from Weisman -- October 2010

Divrei HaRav -- Words From Weisman

With the arrival of October, we can put the High Holy Days in our rear view mirror, and get onto the business of the rest of our Jewish year! There are an incredible number of people and groups of people to whom we owe thanks for our ability as a congregational family to have started our Religious school and New Year 5771 so strongly, and we will do so, under separate title, at the end of my column!

It turns out that we were not the only congregation that spent a good amount of time during these High Holy Days talking about the core Jewish values that organize and make sense of our lives as individuals and as a community. As I shared in my remarks on Yom Kippur, many other colleagues and congregations went down similar paths at this season of introspection, atonement seeking and forgiveness, and pledging to improve ourselves in the coming year. Clearly, a greater awareness of, and recommitment to, our core Jewish values has a tremendous value in such efforts!

I asked on Rosh Hashanah that we all take a copy of our congregational Mission and Vision statement, and refamiliarize ourselves with it – both to better try to live up to its expectations, and to be able to use it as a starting point for our congregational discussions on what it is that we stand on and for. My remarks on Yom Kippur took us through some earlier efforts to do the same for the Jewish community, and to focus us on an expanded model of what I believe we already stand for as a congregational family.

The texts, diagrams and details of those remarks are available on our congregational website (www.templesolelmd.org – along with that Mission and Vision Statement that many of you did not pick up off the table at services!) – a great resource not just for the calendar of upcoming events, and the online copy of Temple Topics, but for Jewish related current events, links to Jewish programs in our area, and so much more. They are, or soon will be, available as well on the Temple Solel Facebook Page, and on my personal blog (www.wordsfromaweisman.blogsite.com), which also links to news on Israel and a variety of Jewish subjects, along with a couple of other lighter blogs, dealing with local traffic matters, music, and sports, written by some very colorful “friends” of mine!). These on-line sites, along with our weekly congregational e-mail, give us unprecedented ability not only to send out information, but to share thoughts and ideas with each other in nearly instant time.

This communication and sharing of ideas in multiple directions is an essential element of turning the more finely tuned values statement about our congregation into reality in our lives. As a member commented to me in response to one of my sermons on the holidays, “Vision without action is wishing.” Merely sharpening the focus of the Jewish values in our mission statement cannot be the end of the exercise – it is merely the roadmap by which our actions in the coming year will bear the most success. And it is by those actions, and their success, that we will judge ourselves and be judged by others.

The same is true for these High Holy Days now ended. It is all too easy to get so overwhelmed by their fast pace and rapid succession, that it burns us out for days or weeks following, or even for longer. However, for this season of Atonement, and start of 5771 to truly bear fruit, we must work to make it the beginning of our efforts for the entire year, not its climactic moment before the year even gets going!

And so, I repeat my invitation to all of us – let us make 5771 the year we rededicate our congregational life and our own lives, to living by the core Jewish values with which we, and the generations before us were raised. Let us make 5771 the year we ACT on those values to improve life for ourselves, our families, our friends and neighbors, indeed, for our entire congregational family, our larger community, and our world!

Yom Kippur Sermon 5771 -- Tying it All Together

Editor's Note: In my original master plan, this sermon was to be accompanied by a Power Point presentation that has, alas, still not been created. When it is, it will be made available through the Temple Solel website (www.TempleSolelMD.org).

One Brief Shining Star – Putting our Values Where Our Mission Is
Sermon for Yom Kippur Morning – September 18, 2010
Rabbi Steve Weisman, --Temple Solel, Bowie MD

There is a very moving reading – one of many – in Mishkan T’filah, our new Shabbat and holiday prayer book. We read it to prepare ourselves to recite the Mourners’ Kaddish toward the end of the service. It was originally written in Hebrew by the remarkable Jewish poet and heroine, Hannah Senesh, and translated into English sometime later:

There are stars up above, so far away we only see their light
Long, long after the star itself is gone.
And so it is with people that we have loved –
Their memories keep shining ever brightly
Though their time with us is done.
But the stars that light up the darkest night,
These are the lights that guide us.
As we live our days, these are the ways we remember.

When I read those words, whether to myself, or in facilitating our Shabbat worship, there are two visual images that come to mind. The first, befitting the artistry of her words, is Van Gogh’s “Starry Night,” a universally recognized masterpiece. The second isn’t nearly as well known, in fact, it may not even still exist, although I hope it is enshrined in a scrapbook somewhere.

It was the drawing of one of the young students of our religious school at my first congregation, in Fredericksburg. The exercise was to draw a picture of one of the days of Creation from Genesis. This youngster chose to draw the first day, and drew a line down the middle of his page. I do not remember what he drew for the “day” side of the page, but I will never forget the “night” side. Not because it was anything spectacular – just a typical childhood drawing.

With one noticeable wrinkle – when this child drew the stars in the night sky, all his stars had SIX points, instead of the formulaic 5! I was so moved by that artistic decision, I asked why he had made this choice. I was prepared for the perfectly plausible “I only know how to make 6 pointed stars” response – after all, we had given him far more practice in that in his Jewish education to date!

What I got instead was the following, “Of course the stars have 6 points. Our God made the stars and placed them in the sky. We are Jewish, and so are the stars!” How could I argue with such profound Jewish teaching? And, even more, having originally seen his artistic choice as being outside the box, his response struck me as being even more INSIDE the box of Jewish thought than my own thinking!

As we have noted throughout these High Holy Days, this young boy was far from the first Jew to note deep philosophical significance in our “star of David.” Long before it became a Jewish symbol, the 6-pointed star was a good luck talisman in the ancient world. In fact, according to Jewish legend, it was because of its good-luck omen status that the warrior boy King David chose this symbol and placed it on his shield, hoping it would give him luck as he went into battle!

Perhaps that sense of being a good luck charm comes from the unique formation of this star, which is made up of two overlapping triangles. We know that throughout history, 3 has also been considered a “good number,” and numerous are the examples of significant items coming in threes as a result. Here again, however, the perception is grounded in solid math – in this case literally. A triangle, with its three sides, is the simplest shape that provides sufficient stability to serve as a foundation upon which a building can be built safely! There can be no better sign of good fortune than seeing one’s construction remain standing and stable over time, even as others less solidly built collapse all around it!

It was this awareness that the Jewish star is made up of two of these stable foundational triangles that moved Franz Rosenzweig, the noted German – Jewish philosopher, to expound a philosophical foundation for his Judaism based in these two overlapping triangles. That he developed his “Star of Redemption” while serving in the German Army in a trench in Macedonia during World War I, writing snippets on pieces of envelopes from incoming mail whenever he could find them and the opportunity, makes his vision and clarity even more remarkable.

Separating the two triangles, Rosenzweig identified one triangle as foundational for the basic identifying principles of Judaism, which he identified as God, Torah, and the people of Israel. He labeled the other triangle with the three primary relationships we have with God – as Creator of the universe, Revealer of the Law at Sinai, and Redeemer of our ancestors, most notably at the Sea. Then he realigned the two triangles into a Jewish star, taking care to align the two triangles in a manner that added understanding and significance to his model.

It was Rosenzweig’s Star that kept coming to mind as I tried to figure out how to bring home the value-based learning model from my time at 6 Points Sports Academy this summer. Far be it for me to even think I could come close to filling his shoes, but his model intrigued me. I realized what I was trying to do was to take Jewish values and make them more obvious and visible in what we do as a congregational family, so we might transfer that increased awareness into the decisions we make outside the Temple, as individuals and families.

I realized that what I was trying to do, like the 6 Points program itself, like Rosenzweig, was to work in 2 foundational triangles at the same time. Like Rosenzweig’s model, one triangle must clearly be Jewish, and so what better way than to maintain the God/Torah/Israel basis of that triangle? But how to define the other triangle, to bring the values that we are already built upon as a Reform Jewish congregational family, that we wish to emphasize in all we do, to the forefront of our vision and understanding.

That was when I remembered the article I spoke of last night, which tried to neaten up the linguistic sloppiness that has many of us today confusing needs with wants. As we discussed last night, the true needs of human experience can be conveniently summarized in three elements. We NEED to survive – to make sure that we are here tomorrow, and if not here physically, that some legacy of our time lives on beyond us. We NEED to find acceptance – some response from others that we are valued for who we are and what we do. We NEED to feel affection – a genuine connection with others like ourselves, based on mutual respect, even love.

My first thought was that this set of three needs would serve neatly as the corners of the second triangle, and, when recombined with the first, bringing uniquely Jewish elements together with universal human needs in the Jewish star, it might provide a model that would be useful. But what was still missing was the value basis that I was seeking to establish and identify in our foundation.

So I went back and looked at those 6 corners, and adjusted slightly. Instead of God, let’s talk about yirat shamayim – the awe and fear of God in heaven. A value. Talmud Torah – the teaching and learning of Torah. A value. Ahavat Yisrael – the love of Israel. A value. At last, I thought, we may be onto something here!

But then I looked at that last one – the love of Israel. I anticipated the next question – are we talking about the people of Israel? The state of Israel? Or the land of Israel? And even though Rosenzweig had focused mostly on peoplehood (since the modern state had not yet become reality!), it struck me that we had the ability to stress all three at once at this corner! Of course we should be based upon a love of the land of Israel – the idea at the end of the Passover seder of “Next year in Jerusalem” had been an idealized dream for almost 1900 years of our ancestors living exclusively in diaspora, one that kept them together as Jews. We already do, and must, support the current Jewish state of Israel. And if we do not stress the value that all Jews are dependent upon one another (another value that we DO already embrace clearly), then we end up alone on an island, disconnected from our brothers and sisters. Indeed, Ahavat Yisrael automatically leads us to all three of these significant Jewish values!

This led me to look at the other two corners of this foundation triangle. Talmud Torah – our teaching and learning of Jewish texts – what is its ultimate value? It is how we connect dor l’dor – from generation to generation – an expression of the importance we place on history and tradition. It is our respect for din tzedeq – law based upon a just foundation – that leads us to live justly in our own lives. It is the importance of Torah lishmah – the value we place on learning for its own sake.

And what about the respect and fear of God (at least metaphorically) in heaven? Even if God is more of a concept or theoretical construct for us, even if God is something we have questions about or difficulty believing, we are still here on this Yom Kippur morning – appearing before God, asking for inscription in the book of life for another year. And therefore, God is, at the very least, an ideal to which we aspire in our efforts to improve ourselves. The theologians call that concept transcendence – our desire and effort to transcend the limits of our own world and grow towards God, towards higher goals in our life than we would set on our own. It is a value symbolized in the story and image of Jacob’s ladder.

For those of us who are less challenged by embracing the concept and value that God plays a role in our lives, that too is a value under the banner of yirat shamayim. Being open to God’s presence in our lives as individuals and collectively – both in the potential for God’s presence with us as a motivator of our own best action and growth, and in our willingness to see God in our lives when the evidence becomes obvious (and even when it is not!) – these allow us to add meaning and order to our lives in both good and challenging times, a most useful value.

And, for those who are REALLY comfortable finding God in our lives, respect for God also manifests itself in our ability to see that same spark of God’s divinity that we look within ourselves and find, that we believe has been passed down to us from the breath of life God blew into the original man and the original woman during creation, burning also inside our neighbors, friends and family, even strangers all around us. The value in this recognition is that it brings order to the world as it does to us as individuals. It allows us to see others as we see ourselves and wish to be seen by others – in the best possible light. It allows us to view those others not as others, but as fellow travelers, as partners in doing God’s work.

We have succeeded in translating the “Jewish” triangle of our new foundational Jewish star into powerful Jewish values. Indeed, in the process, we have strengthened the foundation by anchoring each corner on not one, but three related values. Each corner of our Jewish foundational triangle is itself rooted at least in an equally strong triangle of powerful Jewish values!

As I turned to the more universal triangle of human needs, I suddenly realized why survival, acceptance, and affection really wouldn’t work as the corners of this triangle. As needs, they are things we seek, not foundation pieces to build on, but holes we wish to fill in our lives by seeking other building blocks to create structures to fulfill those needs. So the question then became “What generalized universal values help us to find acceptance, affection and survival in our world?” And can we ground them in Jewish tradition.

Is it any surprise to find an answer to that question which embraces three cornerstone values in response? The most obvious of these is the value of shalom – of peace in all its forms -- for all. Shalom ishi – the internal personal contentment and peace that comes, in part, from finding God in our own lives, and working towards self-fulfillment. Shlom bayit – our ability to transcend our own personal needs, and work with others to bring peace in all its forms into our homes and all the physical spaces we share with others in our lives, allowing us to feel a wholeness that comes from connection to those others. And, eventually, through these, shalom gadol – the great peace that we all pray for and seek to bring about in the universe – the absence of war and strife, but also of suffering and privation.

The second cornerstone value of this triangle would be humility, a value taught throughout Jewish texts and tradition. Psalm 8 teaches, as accurately translated into a folk song from my youth: “Lower than angels am I.” Jewish teaching reminds us that we are little more than dust and ashes, and regardless of what we achieve in our lives, we return at the end of our lives to dust and ashes. This humility is essential for us if we are to seek honor for others, and not just ourselves – a sign of our ability to give as well as receive both affection and acceptance, to allow ourselves and others to leave behind a legacy that survives after our time on earth is done.

What are the values that support this foundational corner of humility? To answer that question, I was drawn to a remarkable teaching from Pirkei Avot, the philosophical and ethical teachings of the Talmudic masters. Chapter 4:1, ironically NOT structured on 3 teachings, but 4, asks and answers a series of questions: Eizeh hu chacham? Who is wise? The one who learns from all his fellow beings. Who is powerful? The one who controls their animal urges (the same ones the Rabbis chalked up to the yeitzer hara – the so-called “evil inclination” that we talked about last night). Who is happy? The one who is content with what he or she has? And who is honored? The one who honors everyone.

It seems clear that the core values that lead to our humility, and are rooted in this Jewish text, are first, the self-control we need in order to limit ourselves, and allow others to have their own space and share of God’s bounty (in other words -- it is NOT the one with the most toys when they die who wins!); second, the modesty to recognize that we are not “all that,” and that there is much to admire in and learn from others; and third, the ability to be satisfied without being satiated, to allow enough to truly be enough for us, so that others may have enough as well.

And the third foundational corner, I believe, is empathy – the ability to view others as having value and equal (or more) integrity. It is empathy that allows us to build communities through our relationships, to work with others, finding commonality with them while also respecting what makes them different.

The supporting values here start with the words we will read from Torah this afternoon – v’ahavta l’rei’acha k’mokhah – to love and respect your neighbor as yourself. Without that respect for others, we can hardly find acceptance for them, we have little chance of finding affection for them, and therefore we have equally little chance of receiving either from them.

They continue with the realization that the refrain of our tradition is correct, and can be expanded beyond the specific into the universal as well, as we shall see. Indeed kol Yisraeil aravim zeh bazeh – all Israel is dependent one upon the other. Given the imperative in Leviticus for us to be “a nation of priests and a holy nation,” and of Isaiah, who implored us to be “a light unto the nations,” it seems clear that our holiness as a people stems from our ability to depend upon and be depended on by others, and that this specific teaching transcends our peoplehood. Our interconnection with others, our willingness to accept that indeed “no man is an island,” is the value underlying all of this that makes it all possible.

And finally, we come to the value of compassion. This is a remarkable word. Com – “with.” It is impossible to have compassion without interconnection, without that respect for others that allows us to care about them. Without this connectedness, compassion becomes merely passion, a fire that burns within us all. And with no one with whom to share, it, our passion will eventually simply burn out, or consume us in its flames.

It is compassion that allows us to feel for and with others, to understand their feelings, that allows us to turn the natural sympathy we might feel for others in good times and bad, which is an inequality, into that empathy, which is our foundational cornerstone, that is a far more balanced relationship, one which allows us to come together to work together for common goals and betterment. It is compassion that fuels our working together toward common goals.

Since my original goal was to bring Jewish values more obviously and deeply into our congregational life and individual thoughts and actions, I will save for another day the exact realignment of these two triangles that make up the Jewish star of our values foundation, the one that allows us to draw even more awareness and learning from the model as Rosenzweig’s star provided.

This morning, we have raised and discussed 18 basic Jewish values that add to our Jewish lives – that number seems appropriate. We have organized them around 6 foundational corners of two triangles that make up a Jewish star – one triangle reaffirming who we are uniquely as Jews, the other made up of more universal values drawn from Jewish teachings, designed to allow us to find ways to fulfill our own human needs while helping others to fulfill theirs as well.

As we gather together as a congregational family, seeking to plead with God for our lives for another year, providing support for our friends and neighbors as they do the same, this model is a powerful foundation upon which to build our lives as we hope to move through the upcoming year. Used well, it can guide these last steps of our atonement seeking from last year as well, and help us to live in the coming year so that our next Yom Kippur might be the year in which we can hope not to need to invoke the insurance we took out last night in reciting Kol Nidrei.

And therefore, with full humility, I offer this model as a second starting point for the discussion of who we already are in many cases, and seek to become as individuals and a congregation, as we evaluate all we do in our lives in this upcoming year. As we take our congregational Mission and Vision statement to heart in our actions individually and collectively in the new year, may this values-based model also help us to understand ourselves and each other better; help us to grow towards each other and work together to better our lives and our world; help us to better identify and fulfill our own needs and those of others; help us to truly become God’s partners and shepherds here on earth.

If our path takes us only one step forward down this path in the coming year, one step closer to each other, one step closer to living up to the ideal selves we envision we could be, what a powerfully successful year it will be for all of us. KYR

Kol Nidrei Sermon 5771

The Times They are a-Changin’ -- A Question of Wanting and Needing
Reflections for Kol Nidrei Night 5771
Rabbi Stephen J. Weisman – Temple Solel, Bowie MD

Tonight, we recited, we sang, we read, and we heard the words of perhaps the most powerful and significant prayer in all of Jewish liturgy – and also the most underappreciated and misunderstood. Kol Nidrei. A prayer so powerful that we often simply refer to Erev Yom Kippur, the start of our holiest day of the year, as Kol Nidrei. A prayer so important that, in most congregations, NO ONE is allowed to enter or exit the sanctuary from the start of services until its completion. A prayer so significant that even we Reform Jews, who have taken the editor’s knife to most portions of the liturgy that are seen to be in any way redundant or repetitive, repeat it more than once, usually, in some form, the traditional three times.

Kol Nidre is NOT our petition that God forgive us for the sins of omission and the transgressions of the last year! Rather, it is an insurance policy that we hope to take out for the coming year, so that if, after our best efforts to do what is right in the year we are still beginning, we find that we have come up short (and as humans, we always WILL come up short, at least until the arrival of the Messianic Time!), we might come before God NEXT year on Yom Kippur and hope for atonement.

However, at its philosophical core, Kol Nidrei is a prayer about change. It acknowledges our need to change, to improve ourselves. It acknowledges that change is difficult, sometimes darned near impossible, so that we enter the process of trying to change ourselves almost with an expectation that we will at least not succeed completely in our efforts. And it does all this even as we are just beginning our efforts towards that change. Remarkable.

Two years ago, the voters of this country turned out in numbers that had not been seen in years, to vote for a new President. Change was inevitable – the incumbent had fulfilled his maximum term, and a new President had to be chosen. With a new person in office, there would be no avoiding change. Change was the theme of that entire election season – in the primaries, candidates vied within their parties to establish themselves as the one best able to bring change. In the general election, the candidates carried their political parties’ views on how to bring about appropriate change on top of their own. In the end, the American people voted, not in selecting the winner, but by the numbers who showed up to vote, overwhelmingly in favor of change. It is also likely true that the successes in this election cycle of the “Tea Party” movement are owed to the same sense that change is STILL needed in our national political life.

There is a marvelous reading in the liturgical tradition for S’lichot, the preparatory service of this season that marks our movement from our own personal introspection and self-inventory back into the life of the community; from the process of moving ourselves from thoughts of how we have come up short into actions of forgiveness and change. Although the prayer speaks of turning, I encourage you to hear the word “change” where I say the word turning, because, for me at least, I find them virtually synonymous in this usage:

“Now is the time for turning. The leaves are beginning to turn from green to red and orange. The birds are beginning to turn, and are heading once more toward the south. The animals are beginning to turn to storing their food for the winter.

“For leaves, birds, and animals, turning comes instinctively. But for us, turning does not come so easily. It takes an act of will to make us turn. It means breaking with old habits. It means admitting that we were wrong, and that is never easy. It means losing face; it means starting all over again. It means saying ‘I am sorry!’ It means recognizing that we have the ability to change…!”

We DO have the ABILITY to change. That is reassuring, as we work through this season during which we are forced to face the truth that change is necessary. Yet, that reassuring realization forces us to confront an additional burdensome question: If it is possible, if it is necessary, why doesn’t it happen more often and more easily?

At this season of self-reflection, we have often semi-joked as a congregational family that our congregation does not do change all that well. Even as we acknowledge that change is an essential element of our Yom Kippur tradition, I stand here tonight and say those words about our congregation again, but I do so within a very different context. Tonight, I stand here to say that, most of the time, I am GLAD that Temple Solel is a congregational family that does NOT change easily!

I say that because, even as I acknowledge that change is important and needed, HOW we change is almost always far more important than WHAT we change. There are two kinds of changes that occur. There are changes that are EVOLUTIONARY – those that come about as the natural result of doing what we do and being who we are, and adjusting to the new realities we face every day. Such changes tend to occur in small steps, at times almost imperceptibly at the actual time of change. We often catch up with these changes only after they have already occurred, noticing them often only when significant small steps have established a clear change in our path. At those moments of recognition, we vote, usually informally by our continuing words and actions, either to ratify what has already occurred by continuing along this new path, or to stop and question whether we have drifted too far from where we thought we were going and should be going. In the latter case, we evaluate how we have reached this point, determine whether we may have stumbled onto a better path, or else we begin to plot a course back to where we thought we already were, and now have agreed, we still wish to be. Such changes, such a process of feedback and evaluation, seem to be a very natural and healthy approach to dealing with the challenges we confront every day.

The other kind of change is REVOLUTIONARY. It is all the things that evolutionary change is not. It is usually vast in scope, earth shaking in impact. It is frequently pre-meditated, and is often a response to a failure to acknowledge the small evolutionary changes until they have taken us so far off our original course that there appears to be little or no alternative way to get back to where we feel we need to be. Even those revolutionary changes which are beneficial to humanity – and these almost always revolve around technological discoveries and breakthroughs – are still vastly different from the first kind of changes.

On a personal level, I greatly prefer the first kind, both for their natural process, and their usually limited impact at any given moment in time. Even the technological revolutions, I believe, need to be approached more slowly, more carefully, with an attempt to fully appreciate the changes these new technologies will have on society BEFORE we rush into mass production and over-hype. For example, for all the amazing advances in medicine over the last century, we are, as a civilization, lagging way behind in dealing with the ethical questions raised by these revolutionary advancements.

As a result, issues like abortion, and right-to-die laws become much more heatedly debated and publicly significant than they otherwise would or should be. Do we yet know what the physiological hazards of widespread usage of cellphones might be 10 or 20 years down the road? Or what the sociological implications of laptops and personal music players will be when our current crop of school children are grandparents? Or of the Internet and social networking's ability to spread falsehoods globally in seconds as easily as truths? Of course not – we can’t! Yet, we continue to embrace these revolutionary changes despite the very real questions of their impact on our present and our future!

Let me use a few very real examples of change both revolutionary AND evolutionary in Jewish history to make my point here. The textual origins of our ancestors’ COLLECTIVE unique covenantal relationship with God are found at Mt. Sinai, with the giving of and acceptance of the Law. However, this REVOLUTIONARY event doesn’t happen without the equally revolutionary salvation of our ancestors by God at the Sea. But it also does not successfully occur if not for the evolutionary foundations that were built upon and led to it – the pre-existing personal covenantal relationship between Abraham and God, passed down through the generations, and recognized by virtually all who heard God’s voice that morning; the first encounter of God and Moses on the mountain through the burning bush, that allowed Moses to be comfortable seeking out that same location to bring the people to God, the same event that allowed Moses to become the leader for these people who would be believed and accepted at such a critical moment.

When Solomon’s Temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 586 BCE, and the leaders of the Jewish community were carted off into exile, this was a catastrophic revolutionary turn of events for our ancestors. The masses who were left behind muddled through as best they could, and as a result, were still available and connected when the leaders came back from the exile about a century later, carrying with them a document called Torat Moshe to guide their efforts to re-establish Judea as a Jewish outpost. Most Biblical scholars see that document as having been compiled DURING the exile, as a way of overcoming the impact of the revolutionary overthrow of the old country. Not necessarily written, but collected and organized. Evolved, not created, in response to a cataclysm. And the embrace of this document – familiar in content if not in structure – by the masses, was a direct result of evolutionary changes in response to revolutionary events – the fact that the material was not completely new to them, but somewhat familiar from olden days, made it that much easier for them to accept it as God's word -- authentic and binding.

Finally, in the destruction of the Second Temple, and the defeat by the Romans in 135 CE following it, when our ancestors were forced by external events to re-form their Judaism, the Rabbis showed great creativity in developing the Mishnah and resetting the calendar, adding haftarah to our canonical readings, establishing prayer as our worship form and the synagogue as our central communal “home,” and made so many more revolutionary changes in response to revolutionary events. All of their success, however, is probably traceable to the fact that prior to 70 CE and the Temple’s destruction, there had already been a couple of hundred years of evolutionary changes happening within the Jewish community, that would, eventually, have led to the Rabbinic system winning out anyway. And therefore, their legitimacy was already established in the eyes of the people, and the revolutionary aspect of the Romans actions just sped up what would have happened more slowly through a series of evolutionary changes!

Given the significance and power of those examples, is there any wonder , looking at today’s headlines, that there are many people within the Jewish community calling for and preparing for a third revolutionary shift in Judaism for our time, to confront the unique challenges of a post-Holocaust, State of Israel, technological world? And they may even turn out to be proven right by history!

In which case, I am drawn even more to go back to the core question I asked a few pages ago: If change is possible for us, if it is necessary, why doesn’t it happen more often and more easily? That question raises a secondary question, which I believe is also found in the dichotomy between evolutionary and revolutionary change – it is the question of what we WANT vs. what we NEED.

Those same Rabbis of 2000 years ago posited two competing drives within us as humans – a yeitzer Tov, which they saw as the inclination to do what is good and right; and a yeitzer hara, its opposite, usually mistranslated as “the evil impulse” or inclination. The Rabbis own definition of the yeitzer hara makes clear that “evil” is way too strong a judgment. The Rabbis gave credit to the yeitzer hara for all of the animal drives that lead us to be successful – the desire for shelter, clothing, food, a job, a spouse, and children, among others. In other words, the yeitzer hara is VERY necessary to our being – without it we would not survive! The Rabbis then went on to credit the yeitzer tov for everything that distinguishes us from the rest of creation, and wrapped it all up implicitly by teaching that it is through the yeitzer tov that we truly are both created in God’s image and worthy of being the superintendents of the building of God’s Creation, in which God is the landlord.

I start there, both because it is in this Rabbinic construct that the origins of Yom Kippur are found, AND because it brings us back to that liturgical piece about change that we read earlier. What makes us unique, in part, is that what the rest of creation does instinctually, we humans have to choose to do. The animals NEED to head south, or gather food for the winter, the leaves NEED to change (or else the system doesn’t work properly) – but we humans have to WANT to change.

But I also start with yeitzer tov and yeitzer hara in part because, I believe, we have all been taught a half truth in our public education. Remember back to junior high school social studies, and Freddy the Farmer and Harry the Hunter. It was there that we were taught the list of basic human necessities that the Rabbis gave to the yeitzer hara.

I recently read an article recommended by a friend, on the difference between human wants and human needs. It posited a similar, but shorter list of absolute human needs, and categorized everything else as a want. It was in discussing this article with this friend that I came to realize that these are one category of human needs, which I came to label collectively as “survival.” Struggling together to clarify our thinking, we identified two other basic human needs besides survival – affection, and acceptance.

So let me now apply that thought to our discussion of change – when external circumstances clearly throw one of these three basic needs – survival, affection, and acceptance -- into doubt, we usually find ourselves highly motivated to change, often willing to make revolutionary changes to respond and return to equilibrium. Otherwise, in the daily challenges of life, we make small internal adjustments as we go, often without even recognizing that we are doing so. Again, it takes a larger challenge to our needs for us to recognize the changes we have already made in this evolutionary manner.

Yet, look back to Kol Nidrei, to the liturgy, to yeitzer tov and yeitzer hara. They seem to imply that the changes we are talking about at this season are WANTED, not NEEDED – at least until we come before God on Yom Kippur to plead for another year of life! That act, on this day, turns want into need – our lives are in the balance, our very survival hangs in doubt! It takes coming into services on these High Holy Days – all of them, not some of them – to give us the motivation and momentum to view these changes that we seek to make in our lives outside of the sanctuary as necessary and not volitional, obligatory and not voluntary.

And with that awareness, we can turn back to our discussion from Rosh Hashanah evening, in which I raised the call to re-evaluate all that we do as a congregation according to a clearly stated set of Jewish values that will become part of our congregational Mission and Vision Statement. In that discussion, I embraced the tug-of-war between uniquely Jewish and more secular influences in our lives as necessary in our efforts to return our Judaism to being our “way of life,” and not just yet another competing special interest identity in our lives.

It often takes external influences that shake up our comfort, make us question our survival, our acceptance, our affections, to make us focus on the need for change, rather than the desire for change. But, Jewish history teaches, even when that change becomes necessary rather than merely desired, a foundation of evolutionary changes must exist to support the bigger changes now identified. And therefore, my EMBRACE of our communal tendency to enshrine the status quo, to protect us against unneeded AND unwanted changes! Knowing that we don’t do change often or well, allows me, as the spiritual leader of our community, to better evaluate the motives behind a call for change when it comes. It allows us, together, to avoid cosmetic changes, those done simply for the sake of change, and embrace only those changes that truly ARE essential – that are the product of real NEED, and not merely WANTING.

Wanting to change is important, even necessary, in our personal lives. Ideally, we should be able to move ourselves internally from wanting to change to needing to change far more often than actually occurs, instead of waiting for the world to force change upon us. Being actors in our own lives is ALWAYS preferable to being reactors! However, as a community, seeking to help ALL members and potential members find here what we have identified as our human NEEDS – to be welcomed and accepted, embraced warmly with affection, and allowed to more than survive, but to thrive – we need to focus far more on needed changes than desired ones.

And so, I raised the call for us to re-examine our Mission and Vision Statement, with the specific goal of basing it in identifiable Jewish values that can translate from our communal lives into our personal ones more smoothly, and thereby inform all we do in life, not just what we do together as a congregational family. Tomorrow morning, I will give a more detailed example of what such a statement might look like as a foundation for the lives we hope to continue to live as we grow and change in the New Year 5771. KYR

Rosh Hashanah Sermon 5771

Values We Can All Live By in the New Year – PART 1
Sermon for Rosh Hashanah 5771
Rabbi Steve Weisman – Temple Solel, Bowie MD

So, here we are for the 11th time together for Rosh Hashanah you and I, our 10th consecutive High Holy Days here at St. Matthew’s – it hardly seems possible! We have been in this room together for some interesting moments – both challenging and celebratory. Our very first Rosh Hashanah here in the immediate aftermath of the tragedy of 9/11. Five years ago, when our Rabbi returned from major surgery. Years when we wondered if we might outgrow this space as well, and years in which we questioned whether we still needed to leave our own building for our most significant communal days.

This year, I look forward to introducing you, hopefully tomorrow morning, to our new host. As most of you know, Rev. Stetler, who was personally responsible for bringing us to St. Matthew’s, has retired. We wish him well, and we are excited that, with retirement, he has not (yet) relocated from our community, giving us the opportunity to continue to share with him, and learn from him. The new spiritual leader of St. Matthew’s, is young, dynamic, and already bringing a new energy and focus to St. Matthew’s and our entire community. We look forward to meeting her and learning from her as well!

So right out of the gate, the New Year 5771 is everything we would expect in a New Year – that unique combination of the familiar and the new; of continuing patterns and activities that help to define us as a congregational family, and new realities requiring our creativity and effort to address. Fortunately, our congregational year got off to an early start, only in part because of the early fall, at least on the secular calendar, of our High Holy Days. With a new president in office, our leadership has begun to develop that same balance between continuing efforts and new ideas. Our universally well-respected Religious School has already begun its year, helping our young people, and hopefully their parents as well, deal with these very same issues.

Even my personal summer experiences provided that similar dichotomy, and have influenced my sharing with you on these High Holy Days. As many of you know, in addition to spending my two weeks at Camp Harlam, where I have now spent parts of 23 summers of my life, which provided the (mostly) familiar, I also had the unique privilege of spending two weeks at our newest URJ Camp – 6 Points Sports Academy, helping to create, from scratch, a unique Reform Jewish environment of learning, sharing, and experiencing, as that program celebrated its inaugural summer. As a congregation, we sent 14 of our young people to Harlam this summer – and 5 more to 6 Points – an absurdly high 20% of our religious school enrollment!

But even more than being a teacher and role model at 6 Points, my two weeks there were spent GAINING knowledge, experience, and new perspectives on all that I do as a rabbi, and we attempt to do as a congregation. And it starts with these silly wristbands!

You see, the challenge in creating this new program was to make it authentically Reform Jewish, while at the same time, recognizing the realities of the core participants lives outside of camp, which in many cases are the most marginally involved in the community, because of their heavy involvement in sports, all while striving above all else to gain legitimacy within the world of REAL sports camps. And so the decision was made to embrace one of the emerging fields of Jewish education and run with it, albeit in some unique ways. That approach is values-based education.

Following the examples of many great Jewish thinkers through our people’s experience, the brain trust at 6 Points looked at the Jewish star that is not merely in our logo and at the core of our name, and selected 6 core Jewish values upon which the program would stand this summer. Each of these core values was introduced to the camp community, and reinforced during the morning “stretch” before breakfast. Members of the camp community who were observed demonstrating one of these core values in the course of going about their day would be awarded the corresponding wrist band for that value.

In other forums, I have noted the brilliance of this program in playing to the basic nature of the participants, creating a self-reinforcing learning experience that could, and has, transcended their 2 weeks at camp. I have also noted the genius, from a continuing PR standpoint, of having these participants go home, showing off these bands with pride to their friends and family, and including on the bands the camp name and web site! But this morning, I want to focus on WHY this program worked.

It worked for three basic reasons. It worked because the 6 clearly Jewish values selected for emphasis were all things that the participants could, and should, be displaying on the playing field. It worked, because the faculty weren’t just Rabbis and educators – we were people who were role models to the kids – both off the field and ON; and because the REAL role models of cool athletes who were Jewish was provided by an amazing staff. And it worked because we avoided the temptation to do too much with it.

All of which got me to thinking – how can I bring this home and have a similar impact within our Solel family? The first caveat that was drummed into my head after my Harlam experience this summer, where our efforts to create a more holistic Jewish program like that at 6 Points made little more than baby steps of progress, was that there was a 4th, unique element in 6 Points’ success this summer. Because we were starting from scratch, there was no existing culture that needed to be changed or re-evaluated, no pre-existing core group with a sense of “ownership” of the program as it had previously been who might be made uncomfortable by a change in direction! That absence removed a significant obstacle to success. But then, how to apply those lessons here at home – where we have 46 years of congregational history, and a culture that embraces the status quo?!

I recalled that one of our successes in my first year at Solel was the development of a formal “Mission and Vision Statement.” I also recalled that it took several years after its creation for this document to begin to become the litmus test of decisions we were taking and programs we were running as a congregational family. Perhaps, I thought, with the start of our second decade together, as we approach, in only a few years, our 50th anniversary as a congregation, this would be a good time to review that document, to make sure that it really does still represent the core values that we believe we stand for as the Solel family.

And so tonight, as our President and Board already have been made aware, along with the Religious School faculty who are, as always, at the front line of so much that we are attempting to do and be as a congregation through their interaction with our students and their families, I am issuing a call for us to make 5771 the year when Temple Solel becomes even more of a Jewish values-based community. I am calling for the leadership and membership of our congregation to embrace our existing “Mission and Vision Statement” even more deeply in the coming year, both for the value that effort brings to us as individuals and as a community, as we struggle to deal with the issues of the remarkable day and time in which we live, and also as a way of determining whether this document still truly represents all that we are and wish to be as individuals and as a congregational family.

To that end, on the tables in the lobby of both of our communal homes throughout these Holy Days, you will find copies of that one-page document that is our current statement. Please take them and make yourself familiar with them. In the words of V’ahavta, that we read in Deuteronomy, and recite whenever we gather as Jews for worship, speak about them when you are sitting in your house, when you are going about your daily routine, teach them to your children – by words and actions together. Take notes of what works and what doesn’t, what is critical to keep as part of the document and what is missing from it.

For example, the word “family” appears in the main paragraph describing who we seek to be as a congregation. Is that single reference enough? Or, are the bullet points we choose to make in the body of the document, spelling out the reasonable expectations of what we will do together and for each other still indicative of the places where our program puts the emphasis? If not, does the document need to change? Or does how we expend our time and energy?

Much like the now concluding self-inventory period of Elul calls upon us first to turn inward to ourselves before we can turn back to our friends and neighbors to seek atonement and grant forgiveness, I ask everyone to share our ideas and our thoughts. Share your responses to this document – via traditional forms and electronically. With the summer, we have gotten away from using our congregational facebook page – still a remarkable place for the exchange of information and ideas.
THIS would be a great way to bring us back to making that page, along with our congregational web-site and the weekly e-mails, central parts of our daily and weekly check-in routine. How many of us, when we get to work, or go on our home computer, have a set line-up of websites we instinctively check in with? Favorite blogs, or information and news sources, or even junkfood for the mind distractions? Shouldn’t www.TempleSolelMD.org and Temple Solel on Facebook be among yours, if they are not already? (And, in a blatant and personal plug, consider adding the Rabbi’s own primary website – WordsFromAWeisman.blogspot.com – to your regular collection -- where in addition to texts of my sermons and Temple Topics articles, you can also find my responses to topics of the day, as well as links to information on Israel and other topics of Jewish interest and import, along with a few (hopefully) entertaining blogs on some (mostly) lighter subjects, like music, sports, and the constant challenges of local traffic, written by some of my more eclectic “friends.”)

You should know, by the way, that as we undertake this effort to clarify and codify the Jewish values upon which we stand as a congregation, we are far from alone. The recent restructuring of the URJ, although driven by harsh economic realities, began, in large part, from a similar effort. The work of the seminal German-Jewish philosopher, Franz Rosenzweig, who developed his “Star of Redemption” while fighting in the trenches of Macedonia during World War I (about which we will talk more on Yom Kippur) was a basis for the development of the 6 Points program along SIX points.

Indeed, looking at the development of the early synagogue almost 2000 years ago, as a house of worship, a house of study, and a house of gathering – which became one of the motifs for our own congregational mission and vision statement -- it is easy to hear the voice of Pirkei Avot – the “Sayings of the Fathers," and recognize the value-based foundation of that development. This collection of pithy philosophical summaries of the positions of many of the great Rabbis of Talmudic times gives us tremendous insight into their thinking and motivation.

Indeed, the collection begins, after linking back historically to Moses receiving Torah at Sinai, with perhaps the most well-known Jewish values statement still today: On three things the world stands – Torah, worship, and acts of lovingkindness. Compare those values to the development of the synagogue and its tricameral nature!

But less well known is the teaching that ends that same first chapter (although we used to, occasionally, sing this version in returning the Torah to the Ark): On three things, the world is established: truth, justice, and peace. Taking these two bookend teachings together, it is not hard to see al-haTorah, v’al ha’avodah, v’al g’milut chasadim as the uniquely Jewish embodiment of the more universal concepts of truth, justice (really judgment, as in by a Divine judge), and peace.

And when we do see this text this way, we come to a very significant realization: that same Zen, yin/yang tug-of-war that goes on within most of us still today, as we seek the balance between Jewish and secular influences in our lives, was just as true in Talmudic times, and has a valid place in our discussion of the Jewish ethics that serve as a foundation stone in our lives today. And this is perfectly acceptable! In fact, it is necessary, if we hope to make our Judaism once again a way-of-life, something more than merely one of the many special interest identities we each have that compete for time, funding, and energy in our over-programmed lives.

Because the truth is that the same core Jewish values that fuel the sense of outrage that many of us felt upon reading yet another attack on Israel in the guise of an in-depth journalistic report on the cover and pages of this week’s Time Magazine, the same sense of pain at the seemingly deliberate timing of that attack, er, report, in relationship to both the restart of the peace process AND these Jewish Holy Days, is also at the core of our very Jewish response to and disgust at the attempt of a Florida minister to turn September 11th this year into “Burn a Quran Day,” and our sadness at the unfortunate timing of that event coinciding with a Muslim celebration of one of the Eids, or festival meals, that are also a part of their Ramadan observance. Just because our latter response is outwardly directed to the defense and sensibilities of others, and not inner directed to our own survival needs, does not make it any less an example of our authentic Jewish core values at work.

As we go through the rest of these High Holy Days as individuals, seeking to make atonement for our own shortcomings, seeking to forgive those who seek our forgiveness, we can do far worse than focusing more on these core Jewish values. As we go thru this period as a congregational family, we will look more deeply at the history of some of these efforts, with the ultimate goal of creating, by the end of these High Holy Days, at least the working framework of a model of our congregational family’s core Jewish values from which to take our emerging discussions, and which individuals can use as a starting point in working through this material for themselves.

If we achieve ONLY this discussion in the course of the year – and we KNOW we will do much more than that – we can enter our New Year 5771 fairly secure that our foundation will only grow stronger in the coming year, fairly confident that whatever we each choose to build on that more solid Jewish ethical foundation will add beauty to our lives and our world. And THAT is a pretty good way to start a New Year! KYR

Divre HaRav -- Words from Weisman -- September 2010

Divrei HaRav – Words from Weisman

As I sit down to write this column, I am freshly returned from remarkable experiences at both our URJ 6 Points Sports Academy and at Camp Harlam, and could easily spend this entire column gushing on that. For now, let me express my pride in being the Rabbi of a congregation that had 20 people at URJ summer camps this summer, my thanks to the parents (and grandparents) who bought into the vision of what giving their children this experience could mean, and to the leaders of our congregation who allowed me to participate in both of these amazing programs.

I am also preparing for my first Shabbat back in the pulpit after my summer break. This one, however, is fraught with other significance, as it marks my 10th anniversary as part of our congregation, and a rather significant personal milestone as well. Again, each of those is worthy of comment, and by the time you read these words, will have been noted as it passed. My thanks to all of you for your good wishes, and involvement in whatever those festivities turned out to be (what I like to call the “writing now for the future” tense!), and for making these last 10 years so powerful and special for me and my entire family.

Which leads us to the fact that it is already Elul – our month of preparation for the High Holy Days, which come right on time, as they do every year, according to the Jewish calendar, but which begin extremely early in our secular reckoning. As I have aged, and matured (hopefully!) as a person, a Jew, and a Rabbi, I have come to appreciate the month of Elul even more. In many profound ways, its Jewish significance is actually greater than the Holy Days it prepares us for, when we allow it to be.

As Jews, we are called upon to do a self inventory, to become introspective and evaluate how we have lived our lives over the last year. As the Talmud teaches, none of us is required to justify why we were not more like Moses, or any of the other greats from our tradition. Each one of us does, however, need to be personally aware of where and why I have failed to be the best me that I can be, as individuals. To acknowledge sins of commission as well as omission, both so that we can learn and improve from our efforts, and to direct us to those others who have been hurt by our all-too-human shortcomings.

As a Rabbi, my life is lived in relationships – with my family and friends on a personal level; with you, my congregational family, on multiple levels; and with the larger world, often as the representative of our congregation. Each of those experiences has the potential to be profoundly spiritual and growth-inducing; each also has the potential to be a time and place where, because of my human frailties and limitations, I come up short or do harm. If I were to live in fear of the latter, I would never have the opportunity to experience the awesome benefits of the former.

Likewise, in doing that self inventory at this season of the year, if we focus on the personal nature of the exercise, or let ourselves be overwhelmed by the number of people to whom we owe thanks or apologies (and often both!), it would be remarkably easy to crawl inside ourselves and stop there. However, the beauty of Elul, and our Jewish preparation, is that it doesn’t merely call upon us to emerge from that cocoon of the self and rejoin the larger communities of our lives. It provides us, through the structure of the Holy Days, starting with S’lichot prior to Rosh Hashanah, with the opportunities to make that reunion with the Jewish and larger worlds around us. If necessary, it can even sometimes force us back out into the world when the enormity of our humanness makes us tremble.

I can guarantee you that my experiences at 6 Points and Harlam this summer, the insights of introspection as I turn 50 and start my second decade as our spiritual leader, have all been a remarkable preparation for my Elul this year. They leave me excited and energized for what the New Year 5771 might bring for all of us. They lead me to offer this blanket apology to all those who feel that I may not have done all that I could have for them in this past year – not in place of the individual acknowledgments that are deserved and still necessary, but as an insurance policy in case I missed anyone. I am truly sorry, and hope to learn from my mistakes and do better in the New Year, and ask for your forgiveness and your guidance in helping me to grow. And they lead me to invite all of us to embrace the tradition of Elul – for ourselves and each other – and gain as much as we can from what this uniquely Jewish tradition has to offer.

From my house and family to every member of the Solel house and family, Loren, Emily, and David join me in wishing for you that 5771 will be a year of health, peace, prosperity, joy, and growth for us all. L’Shanah Tovah Tiqateivu v’Tichateimu! May each of us be written and sealed in the Book of Life for a good and sweet New Year!

Divrei HaRav -- Words From Weisman -- June 2010

One of the items I had promised to post here were my Temple Topics columns, and somehow, that appears not to have happened to date. And so, going back to June of this year, we attempt to make up for that shortcoming.

Divrei HaRav – Words from Weisman

One of the advantages of being the Rabbi is that, most months, I have the chance to look over the rest of the material in Temple Topics before composing my own words. Besides giving me the chance to make sure that nothing of importance is missed, it also allows me to help set the tone for the issue with my column. This month is one of those months. However, by the time I sit down to write this, I know that Rod already has TOO MUCH material for this edition, and so, I am truly being held to a word count!

So I begin by necessarily understating (but at least now I have an excuse, for cover!) my thanks to EVERYONE who helped make this a remarkably successful year for Temple Solel, especially under some trying external circumstances, like the poor economy and the re-organization at the URJ. Louise has done a remarkable job thanking those most responsible, as well as outlining the significant achievements of the last 2 years. Although neither presidents nor Rabbis ever have the chance to absolutely mention EVERYONE deserving of acknowledgment, Louise has done her typically thorough job – and I add my thanks to hers, both personally, and on behalf of our congregation.

There is, however, one person who, for obvious reasons, Louise did NOT thank. That person IS Louise. As her tenure as President comes to a close, I will let her own list of what we have accomplished over the last 2 years stand loudly as the legacy of her term. We are clearly better off as a congregation at the conclusion of her term than we were at its start, and for that she deserves thanks from ALL of us for a difficult job in a difficult moment done very well!

I want to congratulate our newly elected board, and our new President, Bob Levin. Obviously he, and they, will have large shoes to fill, and still have some significant challenges to face. I look forward to working with him, and them, along with our newly elected Sisterhood leadership, our re-emerging Men’s Club, SOSTY, and more, to make Temple Solel as strong as we can be collectively, and making membership and involvement as positive an experience for each of us as individuals as well.

And, I want to thank the congregation for your continued support for, toleration of, and faith in me as our spiritual leader, as demonstrated in (what has not yet occurred as I write this, but hopefully will by the time you read this, or we will all have egg on our faces!) your approval of my new contract extension. As I conclude my tenth year at Solel, this truly has become home, not only for me, but for my family. I look forward to continuing to grow together with you over these next five years, as much or more than we have over the last 10!

There is much more that you need to know, that I want to share, and I will try to do so briefly in short articles that may follow this column or be spread all over this edition as space warrants. I will be here, as usual, through July 4th, before taking my customary time off, this time to serve on the faculties of BOTH Camp Harlam and our new URJ 6 Points Sports Academy. I will be back, as always, after the first week in August, and look forward to celebrating my 50th birthday, as I did my 40th, back here at home. I wish everyone a good, healthy, and Jewish summer that leaves us all reinvigorated, and ready to face 5771 together in strength and joy.

Temple Solel – A URJ Leader in Supporting Jewish Camping

Despite the economy, and the Rabbi’s promise to back off pushing for participation in Jewish summer camping programs, Temple Solel will be sending a record number of our young people to Jewish summer camps this summer! Our 19 campers, 1 staff member (and 1 Rabbinic faculty member!) represent just under 20% of our religious school enrollment (even though our religious school encompasses a greater age range!) The few congregations that send more kids to Jewish summer camps than we do have much larger school populations. In addition to 13 campers and a staff member at Harlam, and 5 at 6 Points, we will also be represented among the participants at Camp Louise this summer. We look forward to acknowledging ALL of the campers and families when the summer is over, and learning from the experiences and excitement you will surely bring home to the rest of us.