Weekly Messages

At Temple Emanu-El
May 21, 2021

“Two Fears Realized” | May 21st, 2021

For as long as I can recall, one of the motives behind insisting on a demilitarized West Bank during peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is because “we have to be absolutely sure” who our partner is on the other side. We cannot make peace with an entity that shakes our hand one day and launches shoulder-fired rockets the next. Especially when said rockets can reach Ben Gurion Airport.

That exact location and the chance of terror hitting that place is an existential fear for all Israelis. The Tel Aviv airport is a fortress that reminds me of The Tower of London meets Fort Knox. But that space was violated last week when Hamas rockets reached the general vicinity of the airport, albeit with little precision. Still, the damage was done. United, American, and Delta Airlines, three US-based carriers that all offer daily non-stops to Israel from locations including Miami, New York, San Francisco, and Chicago, canceled their service last week out of an abundance of precaution while Hamas fired rockets were flying and landing aimlessly throughout the heartland of Israel.

Etihad and Fly Dubai, the latest travel fruits of the Abraham Accords followed suit, though it is unknown if that was done out of safety concerns or in solidarity with Palestinians.

Once terrorists and their missiles can reach the airport and cripple incoming and outgoing travel and hold tourism and ports hostage by rocket fire, the worst fears of Israelis are actualized. The rocket never needs to leave the shoulder launcher to wreak its havoc. All we need to know is the rockets are there, and they can be shot when we are least suspecting. Hamas aiming in the direction of the airport was no accident. It was only luck and poor precision coupled with the Iron Dome that made sure no rockets landed on the tarmac.

The Tel Aviv airport closing temporarily because of Hamas rockets and those flights being canceled is a worst fear of security vulnerability, which was sadly realized this week in Israel.

The ardent and religious in the Muslim Middle East is up at night over fears that “the Israelis are tunneling underneath Al Aqsa in an attempt to take it from us.” The existential fear for many religious Palestinians is that Israel will soon look to conquer and claim sovereignty over the area of the Dome of the Rock and Al Aqsa, and this holy site will be lost to the Muslim world and be under the full rule of the State of Israel. Fears like this are given fuel when political officials flaunt their access to the site, when religious Jews insist on sneaking up to the site to engage in public prayer and when other extremists claim and publish their intentions of making Israel Muslim-rein.

This year Ramadan and Jerusalem Reunification Day coincided, a phenomenon that happens about once every twelve years. When that occurred, passionate Zionists along with fanatical zealots unwisely thought it would be satisfying to march down the narrow corridors of the Arab quarter of the Old City toward the sacred Mosque and other holy sites while draped in Israeli flags and chanting all types of tropes about Jewish land and destiny. They were thoughtless to the fueling of fears their actions would cause and the power these actions would give to false narratives. If they were not thoughtless, then they were proudly instigating. The IDF choosing to deny access to those sites on the sacred beginning days of Ramadan made the tense matter even worse. Ramadan is a sacred month for Muslims. Every opportunity for each who desires to pray and commemorate this holy time should be afforded in the space needed.

Stoking these fears on both sides is tantamount to pouring gasoline on a campfire that we think might be out, but really has embers and coals that are aglow beneath the surface. That accelerant will cause the seemingly quiet pit of wood to erupt in flames and cause everyone to jump back and say, “No. That fire of anger and hatred was not out at all. It is still burning strongly beneath the surface.”

One of the experts I turn to in Israel-related diplomacy has long proclaimed that peace will only arrive when each party is able to see the other side and know what they need, and then provide for them to better allay their fears. For Israelis, it is about providing unwavering security guarantees at all costs, and a cessation of all future claims of land. For Palestinians, it is about not having to wake up in fear of losing their home and the ability to establish a place to call their national country. Both are reasonable yet, they have been unachievable.

For these dreams to become reality, both sides need to demonstrate empathy. Not the kind of empathy that only asks for compassion on victimhood, but understanding for the real life, and existential challenges the other side faces daily. Only then can we ever make sure that this fire is really extinguished, and no lighter fluid will bring it back to life. May that happen soon. We have all waited long enough!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner

May 14, 2021

“Be Careful with Your Counting” | May 14th, 2021

Right now, reading the news out of Israel, it feels like the only thing that matters are numbers. Numbers of the injured, of the murdered, of attacks on civilians, of hate crimes, of targeted airstrikes, of missiles that Iron Dome has shot out of the sky, of the missiles that Iron Dome missed. As these numbers rise we find ourselves taking refuge, outrage, or moral high ground in the numbers. X allows us to do X, and Y means we should dismiss Y.

We must be careful of numbers, our sages teach, especially when we come to care more about the faceless numbers than the people who sit behind each digit.

Our parsha, Bamidbar, opens with the command for a census of Jewish people a year after the Exodus. The ancient rabbis read this census with consternation and confusion, since didn’t God prohibit directly counting the people earlier in the Torah (Exodus 30:12)? They explain that there’s a difference between when God counts humans and when people count humans. When people count other people, we have a tendency to lose the individual for their integer, a full human life becomes just a statistic. When God counts, God takes care to raise up the head of every individual being counted, never forgetting that more important than the number of the person is the person themself.

As we share in the worry, pain, and fear of our brothers and sisters in Israel, let us not be consumed by the numbers. Let us be careful in our counting, always remembering that in front of each number is a person, an individual who deserves to have God raise their head, and deserves the full counting of their days.

With Prayers for the Peace of Jerusalem and a Shabbat of Comfort and Peace for all of Israel,

Rabbi Jeremy Fineberg

May 7, 2021

“Threading the Needle” | May 7th, 2021

Social Media has been a gift for many because it allows a strong, adamant, and often mean voice to be expressed with keyboard courage in a way that people rarely would express face to face. I have shared previously on these pages that when faced with mean words on social media or other platforms that offer refuge, we should aim to not reply with the same mode of communication. Instead, attempt to converse in person, or by phone, or ZOOM. Most times, this will deescalate the tension and ensure that softer, kinder words are used.

However, there are times when we have to say things that are not pleasant, and times we have to hear things that are not pleasing on our ears.  In this week’s parasha, that is called the Tochecha or in English, it is referred to as the Admonitions. We are told that if the Israelites do not observe God’s commandments, God will wreak upon Israel misery, consumption, fever, stolen harvests, defeat by enemies, poor harvests, attacks of wild beasts, pestilence, famine, desolation, and timidity. When this section is covered in the congregation, the reader usually reads it in a soft voice because the punishments are not pleasant.

I never understood why we whisper the reading or why some are reticent to receive that honor of the Aliyah. It is not a decree of what DID happen. It is what WOULD happen if we do not listen to God’s commands.

Do not all of us deserve to be warned in life where and when we can?  Are there not times that we all need to be made aware of our consequences if we make bad decisions? I just think we need to be sensitive to those around us and watch the manner we share our concerns and worry. But the essence of what we share can and should stay the same.

Let us all strive to share the “harder” stuff in life but do it in a way that is less mean-spirited, cruel, or insensitive. Doing so will make the speaker and listener, grow.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner

April 30, 2021

“Finding Light on Lag Ba’Omer” Parashat Emor 5781

Today is 33 Days, which is four weeks and five days of the Omer.

I always get excited when I read these words while counting the Omer- the 49 days leading up from Passover to Shavuot. Today, Lag Ba’Omer, day 33 of the count, is a special day of celebration in the Jewish calendar. As the yahrzeit of one of the most important Jewish mystics, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (2nd century CE), Lag Ba’Omer celebrates the mystical side of Judaism, Kabbalah, and its most important work, the Zohar.

All over the world, Jews celebrate this mystical day by lighting bonfires of all sizes to symbolize the primordial light of the creation of the universe, and the reflected spiritual light that the Torah imparts to us. These massive fires draw us in, encouraging us to look into their multicolored depths, contemplating the great luminaries of our own lives.

This Lag Ba’Omer, I hope you’re able to safely light your own fire, whether in your backyard, in your fireplace, or in your own heart. As you do, ask yourself- What supernal light are you drawn towards, what fiery teaching inspires you? May your fire be a light of inspiration to you and help ignite others to find their own light.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Jeremy Fineberg

April 23, 2021

Parashat Archei Mot-Kedoshim | April 23rd, 2021

Parshat Acharei Mot and Kedoshim remind us from its onset about the painful tragedy of the deaths of two people, Nadav and Avihu.

I never understood why these two sons of Aaron were instantly killed for offering a strange fire in the form of a sacrifice to God. Whether the sacrificial act was done irreverently or by accident, the punishment does not seem to fit the crime. Aaron was filled with silence in the wake of this act, seemingly speechless at how and why such a tragedy would or could take place. Perhaps he could not even speak to God in his anger and grief.

After the incident of the Golden Calf, the Israelites are appropriately shamed into silence for their act of distrust and betrayal. When Moses hits the rock in anger, we are taught that the punishment is that he cannot enter the Promised Land of Israel. Another harsh decree. If God is full of compassion and forgiveness and proscribes a remedy to heal us from sins in this very portion (the day of Yom Kippur), why then does God not afford that remedy to Nadav and Avihu?  God can certainly punish harshly at times in ways that do not seem to meet the crime and sometimes, people are not even afforded an opportunity to regret and repent for such crimes.

This has been a week filled with conversations and thoughts about crimes and punishments and meeting expectations. In these societal cases, I will leave the punditry to others. Still, I will remind all of us that in our pursuit of being holy (Kedoshim Tehheyu) and aiming to emulate God in acting holy, we must make room for not only fair punishments that meet crimes where and when we can, but also creating space and avenues for forgiveness, where and when appropriate.

Wishing you a Shabbat of peace and health,

Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner