Weekly Messages

At Temple Emanu-El
December 18, 2018

December 13th, 2018 | Vayigash 5779 by Rabbi Kerbel

“Exile and Homecoming: The Essence of Being a Jew”

The notions of exile and homecoming have preoccupied the Jewish imagination for thousands of years.  The Jews have been a wandering people and spent most of the last 2,000 years contemplating their homecoming to The Land of Israel, Eretz Yisrael.

One of the first notions of exile occurs in this week’s Torah portion, Vayigash.  There is famine the in land of Israel.  Jacob’s son’s head to Egypt in search of food and land to graze their flocks.  Here they encountered Joseph, now the Chief Operating Officer of Egypt.  In one of the greatest scenes in all of literature, Joseph identifies himself to his brothers and reconciles with them.  Joseph seeks to comfort them by saying, “Do not be distressed or reproach yourselves because you sold me into slavery, it was to save life that God sent me ahead of you.”

It is because of a coat of many colors and parental favoritism that Joseph ends up in Egypt and it is because in famine in the land of Israel, that the rest of the family joins him there.  Joseph advises:  “you will dwell in the region of Goshen, where you will be near to me for there are five years of famine yet to come…”

When we finish the Book of Genesis next Shabbat, we can ask ourselves:  ‘if God wanted to give the land of Israel to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, why does the Book of Genesis end and, the Book of Exodus begin with the children of Israel in Egypt?’  This biblical story sets the stage for the rest of Jewish history – that for most of our history so far, we have had periods of exile followed by generations of homecoming.

These seventy plus years of homecoming and nation building have lured too many of us into a trance or stupor that causes us to forget that we have not always had a Jewish home and that having a Jewish home is dependent upon our behavior and God’s favor upon us.   We must never take Israel for granted.  We cannot undermine Israel’s security or ability to defend itself or look the other way as infighting between fellow Jews over religion, the economy, security and the welfare of the Jewish people causes rifts and challenges.

One of the nightmares I have occasionally is that God will be so angry with us that Israel will be taken away from us again because we did not act appropriately, care enough and devote our time and resources to make Israel the best country it can be.    The lesson for me is that while we have survived and even thrived in exile, our people is so much stronger by having The State of Israel.   Let us always work to be worthy of sharing in this great blessing.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Paul David Kerbel

December 10, 2018

Parashat Miketz 5779 | December 7th, 2018

I am excited to invite you to join us for Shabbat when we will be in conversation with Amanda Berman, the Founder and Director of Zioness. Amanda is breaking down walls and crossing barriers to create a new place for people in the Jewish world. This Shabbat Hanukkah, I have asked her to share about the Holy Work she is doing. On Shabbat morning, you will get a chance to meet Amanda and hear more about Zioness and how we can help in this endeavor.

Please click here to read A Zioness Battle for the Soul Of The Left by Amanda Berman

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Hanukkah.

Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner

November 29, 2018

“Unfulfilled Dreams” by Rabbi Paul David Kerbel | November 29th, 2018

As we read this week’s Torah portion, Vayeishev, we see one of the few places in the Torah where there are stories about dreams and the interpretation of dreams.   I am not sure that there is a people in the world who are either not interested in or indifferent to the reality of dreams in our lives and what they might possibly mean.  Whether we view dreams as meaningful or meaningless, it is hard to put the dreams we do remember out of our minds without some reflection or consideration.

In the narratives about Joseph that we read for the next four weeks, dreaming gets Joseph into and out of trouble.  What saves Joseph is his unique ability to interpret dreams that have meaning for Pharoah and lead to Joseph saving the people of Egypt as famine approaches.  The Torah treats dreams with great importance and Joseph’s ability and insight are seen as a gift from God who is watching over Joseph to prepare him for the leadership role he will soon play.

During the same week we read this portion, we also observe an important historical date.  Today is November 29th.  Seventy-one years ago today, the leaders of the world had a dream:  to create a Jewish State and an Arab State in Palestine.  By a vote of 33-13 with numerous abstentions, the United Nations voted to give the Jews and the Arabs their own states in the Land of Israel.  While imperfect and flawed, the Jewish leaders of Palestine and the World Zionist Congress accepted The Partition Plan.  The Arabs rejected it.   On May 15, 1948, one day after the British retreated from Palestine, five Arab armies attacked the new State of Israel.

The conflict that Israel, the Jewish people and the World continue to struggle with could have been resolved.  The Talmud teaches that:  ‘neither a happy dream or,  a bad one is ever entirely fulfilled.’  I don’t think that the leaders of the Yishuv viewed the partition plan has a happy dream or a bad dream;  but, they were realists and they understood that fulfilling part of your dream is better than not fulfilling any of it.

Supposedly, President Trump’s Peace Plan is ready to be shared.  The US Ambassador to Israel said this week, ‘we are just waiting for the right time.’  The word is that without even seeing the plan, The Palestinian Authority is speaking out against it.  The Palestinians may not like part of the plan.  The Israelis may not like part of the plan.  We may not like part of the plan.

But as Israel moves through its seventy-first year,  I am glad and proud that I have lived to see the restoration of our people in its land.  I have dreams for peace and cooperation.  I have dreams of two peoples living and sharing and cooperating together.  The question is:  how much of the dream of a Palestinian State are the Palestinians willing to live with and fight for or will they allow their dream to continue to remain unfulfilled?    The best thing about a dream is when you can turn it into a reality.  We have made our dreams more important than the night we experienced them.

Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Paul David Kerbel

November 28, 2018

“A Wonderful Approach to Life” By Rabbi Paul Kerbel | November 21st, 2018

As Jacob prepares to see his brother Esau for the first time in twenty years, Jacob prays to God:  “I am unworthy of all of the kindness you have so steadfastly shown to me!”    What a wonderful approach to life!  God has blessed Jacob with more than he had any right to claim -love, family, children and material wealth.  Jacob asks now only for God’s help and protection as he prepares to return to the land of Israel.

Our Torah portion reminds us of the importance of the art of appreciation.  On this Thanksgiving we have the opportunity to reflect on the many blessings in our lives and the ability to thank God, our family and friends for the many treasures we possess and so often overlook.

A story appeared yesterday that there is a custom dating back to an early King of England that the royal family was to be weighed before and after their Thanksgiving meal.  The King wanted to make sure that everyone ate well at his royal holiday meal.  I understand that the weighing in is now voluntary – I am not sure that Princess Kate and Duchess Meghan will want to participate – and it does seem to be an odd custom, so I would suggest to The Royal Family to adjust their custom.

Instead of weighing ourselves, what if we weighed all of the kindnesses shown to us and the good deeds we seek to perform to make our world a better place.  What if we gave thanks to all of those who have helped us reach where we are in life:  parents, grandparents and other family members, teachers and coaches, colleagues and clergy.

We need Thanksgiving, not for the calories we gain but for the need to give thanks for all that we have received and the blessings that too often we take for granted.  A thankful heart is the greatest virtue.

Enjoy this holiday weekend!

Shabbat Shalom.

November 19, 2018

“This is Not Your Grandfather’s Anti-Semitism” | November 15th, 2018

Swastikas painted on synagogue buildings, machine guns trained on Jewish souls, pogrom style marches and hate filled speech about Jewish “termites” are all familiar sounding alarms that put us into a defensive posture that we have been accustomed to for centuries. We bend our knees, with the balls of our feet planted firmly for our defense, yet they are ready to pivot 180 degrees to allows us to run away quickly, should we need to flee. The only problem is today’s anti-Semitism is not the same as what our ancestors endured and suffered. Yet, we are assuming a position that we are familiar with even though the circumstances are wildly different. Make no mistake about it, this is not your grandparents anti-Semitism.

Last week I had the opportunity to be in Berlin for the 80th commemoration of Krystallnacht. I was an invited guest of the German government, along with a dozen other rabbis from across the country. In Germany I witnessed a sense of ownership and responsibility by the people of Germany – elected officials and common folk – that was uncanny.  High school students asked for forgiveness for crimes they knew nothing about. One 12th grader said to me, “I do not feel guilty because I did nothing wrong. However, I do feel ashamed for the inheritance my ancestors left me.” With tears in his eyes, he then asked for forgiveness. Elected officials of all levels spoke with a sense of disgrace for the history of their homeland that they were born into, each making it a priority to express their sorrow and upset at the Jewish fate because of Germany’s predecessors. We also learned that Germany has some of the strictest laws in the world against Holocaust denial and has the soundest curriculum incorporated into the state-run educational system on teaching the Shoah. This is something our history has never prepared us for.

On the anniversary of the massive pogrom that occurred on November 9, 1938, a march happens from the former SS and Gestapo Headquarters to the museum dedicated to the memory of the Holocaust in the center of Berlin. Everyone nearby stops work, puts down their forks at lunch and joins the silent march. The irony was not lost on me that police were escorting all of us during this march protecting us from traffic and any seeking to do evil. 80 years ago, the police were the accomplices. The Gestapo arrested Jews for their religion alone. Community leaders, Berlin residents and Jewish children read each name of the 55, 696 Jews from Berlin who were murdered during World War II, just 70 yards form what once was Hitler’s bunker on a site that was Goebbels villa. How the winds have changed in a relatively short time in history.

Of course, there is still anti-Semitism in Germany. Some is old fashioned Jew hatred by Neo-Nazis and other hatred is spewed by anti-Zionists mainly from Arab countries. A few years back a kippah wearing man in Berlin was jumped at night while walking home. The next day, German leadership were portrayed on the cover of the German newspapers all wearing kippot, even though they were not Jewish. The campaign as called, Berlin Tragt Kippa – which translates to Berlin wears a Kippa.

After the attack in the Hyper-Cacher market in Paris in 2015, French President Macron declared that France would not be the same without a Jewish population and presence. When ever have we heard that in our Jewish history? Government officials standing shoulder to shoulder with the Jewish people in a moment of need and attack.

Ponder this: we live in a time when some people passionately love Israel, because of its role in fighting radical Islamic terror, yet some of those same people despise Jews. At the exact time, there are large masses of people that love the Jewish people and their drive towards social justice yet loathe Israel and its political positions. This is a brand-new phenomenon that we have never been primed for in our 3500-year history.

Linda Sarsour has been an outspoken voice on liberal issues, many that align with other Jewish activists. Linda Sarsour spearheaded a fundraising campaign in the wake of a spate of anti-Semitic events at a Jewish cemetery in St Louis, Missouri and Lakewood, Colorado. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were raised, thanks to Sarsour’s efforts. Sarsour, however, has been hyper-critical of Israel and salting that wound, Sarsour has not hidden her admiration and support for Louis Farrakhan who is rabidly anti-Semitic and even last week called Jews, “termites.” How do you solve a problem like Linda Sarsour?

The latest threat to Israel is the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) efforts that are incubated on college campuses. To date, not one of the 4000 plus four-year degree granting universities have divested from Israel. Still it is reason for concern. These efforts are being launched without bombs, guns or jihadists. It is a form of civil unrest. And, while I find it wickedly unbalanced and unfair, the tactics are one that is newer for the Jewish state to deal with and is free of violence. This is a relatively new chapter in the book against the Jews.

The attack in Pittsburgh will forever be a moment of history in America that will simultaneously remind us of Jewish vulnerability and support for the Jewish community. During our worst moment we received the most beautiful gestures of support, love and healing. Imams and ministers and priests joined hands with hockey players and football players. Presidents and governors stood with mayors and public officials in solidarity. We understood that all of our tears taste the same, and we all cried together.

In our congregation, Governor Phil Murphy chose to worship with our synagogue along with NJ Attorney General, Gurbir Grewal. They stood with us, cried with us, mourned with us and offered hope to all of us. We were not Catholics and Sikhs and Jews. We are humans united in grief and fortified in love. Both the Attorney General and Governor said there is no place they rather be than in our synagogue on this Shabbat.

In 1492 we were expelled from Spain by the King and Queen. The turn of the 20th century was filled with pogroms in Russia and nearby areas all focused against Jews with protection to the assailants by the Czar and the police forces. From 1935 in Nuremberg to the liberation of Auschwitz in Poland in 1945, Jews were systematically targeted, tortured and killed. 6 Million of our brethren were slayed under the guise of war by the Nazis. On July 4, 1946, after WWII, a pogrom erupted in Kielce, Poland that targeted Jews with an old-fashioned blood libel. In 1946 Kruschev, the Premier of Russia and leader of Communism closed more than 400 synagogues.  Israel was subject to attacks from the moment it declared statehood and it continues today. During 1972 in Munich Germany, when athletes were tortured and then murdered for being Israeli, the games went on and no elected officials stood with the Israeli delegation as we grieved.

These examples were from our history. What we face today is different. Radically different.
I am not suggesting that there is no more anti-Semitism today. I am however, proposing that today’s anti-Semitism and the surrounding challenges for the Jewish people across the globe, is nothing like what we have been accustomed to and thus, we should treat it differently. Our posture should not be the same as it has been since 1492 and after. The circumstances and responses are fundamentally different. Better in some ways, worse in others but, dissimilar.

I am keenly aware of similarities from our worst times that are sprouting in the United States today. Disgust for the other, vilifying minorities, politically motivated attacks, large rallies and mob mentality with blind support for leadership, intolerance for people that share a differing view. These ingredients make a toxic brew that causes fear and panic. In no way should we be cavalier about these threats and behaviors. If we do not remember our past, we indeed will repeat it. I do propose though, we come up with a new posture and response that is not the same old stance and still not one of acting Teflon, as if no harm can come our way. Like all new things, that is hard and will take some tweaking, serious thought and calibration. But our children deserve it and the strides we our ancestors and we have taken along with the bridges others have crossed for the sake of bettering the world cannot be jettisoned to serve our familiar posture or to make us comfortable.

It is not our grandparent’s anti-Semitism. It is ours. Different, yet real. It is our challenge to make a new posture for today to rid our kids of inheriting hatred for tomorrow.

Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi David-Seth Kirshner