Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Ha' Blog on Israel in Haiti

Israel has received a surprising amount of coverage, much of it positive, in the mainstream media, for her involvement in the rescue efforts in Haiti, and I trust that has filled many of us with a sense of pride.

This thoughtful piece, taken from one of the blogs of Ha', Israel's leading Hebrew language newspaper, written by Bradley Burston, opens our eyes to some of the other responses that have been directed at Israel's efforts, somewhat less positively, and raises some very challenging questions for us, and the world at large, to grapple with, if we hope to see Israel attain a meaningful and lasting peace.

The article can be found here. I am very curious to see what shape our discussion of this article takes.

If the link is not working automatically (and this one appears not to be as I create this blog), simply cut and paste it into your browser.

The Power of Jewish Camping

As I also promised, I will use this space to promote other valuable information and spark conversation on topics I find interesting and central to my life (especially Judaism and baseball!)

To that end, I highly recommend my good friend Rabbi Eric Siroka's blog on the power of Jewish Camping, as reposted on the URJ blog site. You can find the original here:

And I would love for those of you with camp background, or parents of current campers, to also share your thoughts here for the benefit of our discussion.


Sermon from 1/22/10

As promised last Friday, when I decided against sharing the full text of my sermon because of time issues, here it is posted, as all future (and a few select past) sermons will be, usually on the Tuesday after they are delivered. I trust that reading the full text, for those who were there, will be a more satisfying experience, than listening to the somewhat disjointed abridgement on the fly offered at services....

Blogger's Note: Because of issues of privacy and security, I will not give full names or any personal information here, even if they are part of the sermon as delivered, unless they have already been publicly mentioned in an item being quoted....

A Little Bit of This, A Little Bit of That -- Musings for a Shabbat Evening
A Sermon for Parshat Bo, January 22, 2010
Rabbi Steve Weisman, Temple Solel, Bowie MD

We have prayed – for ourselves, and for and with each other. Our choir has, as always, taken our prayers and raised them up further into the heavens, not on eagles’ wings, but on their voices. We have read powerful words from our Sacred Torah. And we have been blessed to celebrate with FOUR generations of a family the arrival of new life! What more could we wish for on such a Shabbat.

Far be it for me to clutter those good feelings with a sermon. But there are a bunch of small items that I think are worthy of our attention tonight, no one of which would make a full sermon on its own, but also no one of which should trump the others, or be ignored.

As a Rabbi, I am incredibly proud that we have one of our own, Matt K, who is part of the military support response headed to Haiti to help restore order and calm after their recent tragedies. I am sure I express the feelings of many others when I say, if I cannot go myself to be part of the solution, I feel that Matt’s involvement means a part of me, a part of us as a community, is there. And as we have twice before, we will rally around Ronnie and Tom, and continue to pray for Matt’s return – safe and successful.

I am also incredibly proud to be part of the Bowie response to the Haitian tragedy, as we announce officially tonight not only that there will be a Bowie Cares: heart 2 heart II benefit concert and event on March 7th at the Bowie Center for the Performing Arts, but that TWO groups from Temple Solel – Plan 9 and Shir Joy – will both be performing in the concert, along with local favorites, the Crayfish, which includes our member and friend Bob P in its line-up! We will be hearing MUCH more about this event, which will also include local restaurants kicking in for the cause a part of their receipts from concert goers that evening, as the details become available. [Rabbi's note: Be looking for updated information on the event -- which may be moving a week earlier -- here, and on the Temple website and facebook page]

It seems to me that here we have two solid congregational responses to the 10th plague – the killing of the first born, and so many others, in the Haitian earthquakes. That may seem like a tenuous connection to Torah, but stick with me on this – the connections will start to grow stronger, I promise!

Last night, the Board agreed to move forward and to establish a Temple Solel presence in the blogosphere. That presence will consist of two distinct parts. There will be a Temple Solel blog site, temporarily called “Soleliquy,” at least until someone comes up with a better name for it. In that portion of cyberspace, we will look forward to our congregational leaders and members posting items of interest and concern to them in a Jewish context, and welcoming our response as individuals to those postings. This modern form of communication and dialogue will NOT replace face to face meeting – how could it? But it WILL increase our ability to communicate with each other, to solicit more input for new ideas and suggestions, and better implement programming and policies that will truly strengthen our community. [Rabbi's note: I have not yet established this blog -- be looking for the announcement when it is up and running]

As such, this will be the antidote to the destructive power of the 8th plague in our modern lives. The impact of the locust swarms was a physical destruction of much of the infrastructure of Egyptians homes and cities. The back and forth around ideas in advance of congregational action will strengthen the foundations of our communal structure.

The second blog will be mine. On it, I will post my sermons, as well as my monthly Temple Topics columns, as well as small news items that cross my desk (like those included here tonight), or idea pieces that I wish to use to provoke discussion for our community. I hope, and expect the same brutal honesty in writing that I have grown accustomed to after my spoken words from all of you, and would encourage everyone to get in on the discussion. One of things I love most about our community is the incredible diversity and multiplicity of our voices, combined with our genuine caring for each other, that allows us to risk sharing our thoughts with each other in a semi-public forum. Where many congregations spend hours and weeks debating whether to have their blogs moderated or not, I cannot imagine us doing anything more than limiting access to the blog to our members, and reminding ourselves that we are a mishpachah when we dialogue!

As long as I spending much of this sermon in thinly disguised shameless self-promotion (for US, and not just for myself), let me move onto the next mini-item. Last month, I spoke about the need for our congregation, and our movement, to bring our practices and policies as related appropriately to Jewish death, burial, and mourning into line with our embrace of interfaith couples and non-Jewish partners. Since that time, we have had a half dozen or so members losing relatives, and virtually every one has fallen into this interfaith category.

This Tuesday, I have the privilege of speaking at our monthly “Learn and Lunch” on this very topic. As I have begun to do research, and begun to put some thought behind what I am learning, I become even more convinced that this effort is already necessary, and far more complex than just being an issue of interfaith sensitivity intersecting with particularistic Jewish needs. It promises to be a fascinating discussion, the second of what I suspect will be many on this subject for us before we are through with it.

And in the process, we will be dispelling the darkness of the 9th plague that surrounds this matter, obscuring many from even realizing that there are problems related to burying and mourning non-Jewish relatives for members whom we have embraced as integral parts of our Jewish community. There are cases where families don’t even think to let us know that a death has occurred, and thereby depriving them and us from the opportunity of allowing us to help them heal and achieve some sense of closure. There are congregations in which only Jews can be listed publicly before the reading of kaddish, thereby depriving members of their community of that same needed support. I am grateful that we are not one of those congregations!

Hmmmm – three seemingly unrelated issues, that when taken together allow us to overcome, metaphorically, the results that the last 3 plagues of which we read in this week’s Torah portion might have on our community today. Not so outrageous a connection anymore, is it?

But wait – I have saved the best, and most bizarre, for last. Because our portion tonight starts with the 7th plague, hail. A downpouring from the heavens which does more than the normal amount of damage.

It was just 3 weeks ago, on my return from vacation, after the Christmas Day terror scare on the airlines, that I shared with you the story of my “niece” being stopped in Utah on her way home from vacation for having a single stray rifle bullet in her backpack. That bullet had apparently been in her backpack for over 2 years, and had accompanied her on and off of dozens of airplane flights in the interim without being spotted – in Utah, the day BEFORE security was increased. I semi-humorously bemoaned that fact that she would probably now face much more difficulty flying back to school after break, since she assuredly is now “in the system.”

Clearly, in this day, if we have ANY modern plagues, it is the plague of the threat of terror, and the plague of our lack of resolve as a country to stomach a little inconvenience in return for some serious increase in our safety, along with the plague of poor implementation of truly useful anti-terror strategies that are not morally repugnant. My “niece’s” experience was followed a few days after the REAL terror plot was almost not foiled, by the story of a plane returned to the gate in Wisconsin when a passenger similarly realized that he had gotten onto his plane carrying SEVERAL bullets, and self-reported himself.

But none of this prepared us for the event that unfolded yesterday, in a small airplane between New York and Louisville. But don’t believe me, listen to this account from the NYTimes City Room blog, yesterday:

Updated, 10:53 a.m. A US Airways flight from La Guardia Airport to Louisville was forced to make an unscheduled landing in Philadelphia this morning because of what the authorities called a “disruptive passenger.” Nothing suspicious was found on the jet, and none of the 15 passengers or three crew members were injured, officials with the airline and the Transportation Security Administration said.

The official said the passenger had “religious beads” but would not elaborate other than to say, “It’s turned out to be a nonthreat.”

The plane, Flight 3079, an Embraer regional ERJ-145 operated by Chautauqua Airlines, took off from La Guardia at 7:50 a.m, twenty minutes after its scheduled departure. At 8:30, officials said, the pilot notified the authorities of the disruptive passenger. The plane landed at Philadelphia International Airport at 8:50. The crew and passengers deplaned and were in the terminal by 9:40 a.m., officials said.

Officials from the airline and the security administration deferred to each other on further details.

Morgan Durrant, a spokesman for the airline, referred questions about the episode to the security administration. Ann Davis, a spokeswoman for the agency, said, “We’re always going to be responsive to an airline if they indicate they want to divert due to a suspicious passenger, but in terms of how that decision was arrived at in the moment, the airline needs to speak to that.”

And this update a tad later:

Updated, 1:35 p.m. A 17-year-old Jewish teenager tying on tefillin, the leather strap-and-box prayer apparatus, was the reason the crew of Flight 3079 became alarmed, the police said.

And finally this further explanation from a Philadelphia police lieutenant shortly after 3PM:

“He wrapped the straps around his head,” Lieutenant Vanore said. “He wrapped one box around his hand and straps around his arm. He was in the process of praying with his sister next to him. The flight attendant was next to him. He gave the explanation that he was in prayer. She alerted the pilot. The pilot erred on the side of caution and decided to radio that in and to divert the flight.”

The lieutenant said that there was never any panic aboard the plane and that the young man was “completely cooperative.”

The flight attendant, the lieutenant said, apparently mistook the leather straps for cables or wires. “She said it had wires running from it and going up to his fingers,” he said. “When they notified the pilot of that, he had to follow his protocol.”

What more can I possibly add to that, other than the all-too-obvious “When it rains, it pours!” I guess we should be really thankful he didn’t pull out a sefer Torah and a yad – who KNOWS what that might have led to?

KYR – May it be God’s will, that as we move to work against the forces that plague us daily, to free ourselves from the slaveries that preclude us from living the completely fulfilled and fulfilling spiritual lives we all seek to attain, individually and collectively, we show a little more awareness, a little more sensitivity, than this flight crew did!

Getting Started


With these words I take my first, ever so tentative steps into the blogosphere....

It is not that I question my ability to fill space with words (those who know me best will affirm that truth!). It is not even the fear of what others might say in response to my words -- indeed, besides posting my sermons here each week (probably on the following Tuesdays), and my monthly columns of similar name from Temple Topics, I intend to use this space to put out there for congregants, family, and friends (not necessarily in that order!) links to articles and other sites specifically designed to stimulate debate and discussion!

Rather, it is the cyber version of the old party fear -- What if no one shows up? -- or the philosopher's riddle about the proverbial tree in the forest. What if none of the anticipated results materialize. What if, heaven forbid, no one CARES?

I will do my part -- I have taken the plunge. But now, it is up to you out there to decide the success or failure of this venture. My blogofate is in YOUR hands!