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Elul Thoughts

This past Sunday ushered in the month of Elul, the last Hebrew month before Rosh HaShanah.  We find ourselves at the starting line, crouched to spring forward, our eyes on the finish line of 5776.  Just beyond, not yet visible to the human eye, is the empty starting bloc--waiting patiently to thrust us into the New Year of 5777.  We must cross the finish line before we can begin anew.  As we continue on our month-long journey to a new beginning, we will pass, like spectators on the sideline, our actions, deeds and misdeeds of this past year.  We shall see our aspirations never realized, our moments of joy, and our sad defeats.  We will hear the words of comfort and encouragement we gave to those in need of our support.  We will hear the deafening silence of the words never spoken—words seeking forgiveness---words of love—words of reconciliation.  Divine forgiveness is only realized when we, first, make amends with those whom we have offended.  The month of Elul provides the framework to begin the process of reconciliation…a journey that culminates on Yom Kippur when we seek forgiveness from God.  Tradition teaches that the Hebrew letters of Elul—aleph, lamed, vav, lamed—are an acronym for a verse from Shir HaShirim (Song of Songs):  Ani L’dodi, V’dodi Li-I am my beloved’s and my beloved is mine.  In this verse the relationship described is one between God and Israel.  During Elul this serves as a metaphor for the closeness we strive to achieve in all our sacred human relationships as well: spouse, parent, sibling, partner, friend, neighbor.  Elul is about seeking and granting forgiveness in order to strengthen the treasured bonds in our lives.  It is about speaking the words, “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you.”  Like a runner who is cheered on by the crowd or running partners, we too, are energized and strengthened by those loved ones whom we encounter each day.  Elul helps remember who and what are most precious in our lives; it gives us the opportunity to mend moments of fracture.  It provides the lens for us to see who will be standing next to us in the starting block of the New Year.  Let each of us pace ourselves during the month ahead.  May we have a strong heart to finish the Elul marathon –a heart filled with regret, forgiveness and love. 

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Rabbi Hirsch’s Shabbat Sermon from July 29, 2016. It contains time sensitive Information on how you can help voters in North Carolina. Your action is needed by August 5.

D’var Torah

Rabbi Deborah A. Hirsch

July 29, 2016


               Next Friday, Jews across the globe will usher in the Hebrew month of Av—a month overlaid with sadness and mourning.  Tradition teaches it was on Tisha B’Av, the 9th day of Av that both the first temple in 586 B.C.E. and second temple in 70 C.E. were destroyed.  According to tradition, the first temple was destroyed because the Israelites transgressed the first of God’s 10 Commandments and worshipped foreign gods belonging to their pagan neighbors.  According to the Talmud, the second temple was destroyed, in part, because people engaged in sinat chinam—baseless, ungrounded hatred—they abandoned the ethical teachings and moral imperatives embedded in Torah.  Not only did they forgo their obligations to care for the poor, the widow, the orphan, the stranger in their midst—they could not even act civilly to one another.

           As the republican and democratic conventions are behind us—and the rhetoric—much of which was alarming, hopeful, enraging, sad, inspirational—will give way to commercials that will bombard our senses in the months ahead—we must not lose sight of the values we are taught to hold precious.  No matter our political party affiliation, we share in being Americans—holding fast to the freedoms granted to all Americans and preserved in the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

           By the time we enter the voting booths in November, more than a year will have passed since the first words of the 2016 elections creped into our consciousness.  This election year, perhaps more than any in recent memory, has candidates unequivocally at opposite ends of the liberal-conservative spectrum and seemingly dividing the country in two.  There is also a strong political riptide hurling America into a sea of change—Americans on both sides of the political spectrum are demanding change in the way America treats its citizens.   I will not speak tonight about the candidates’—polar opposite positions on every level, rather, I would like to focus on a change enacted more than 50 years ago that still has not yet been fully realized, perhaps even more alarming, a change that has experienced serious setbacks in recent years, even months.  I am speaking of the fundamental right of every American to vote.  As Americans we must feel obligated to protect—the right to vote—to ensure that every American has equal access to casting her or his ballot. 

           Fifty-two years ago, this past June, James Earl Chaney, Mickey Schwerner and Andrew Goodman, were shot dead in Meridian, MS—their crime—they were members of the Freedom Summer campaign, and worked to register black voters in the south.  Although the KKK is less active today then it was in 1964—there still is a very inconsistent process regarding registering Black voters in America—a flawed process that can turn the tide of national elections. 

           In 2013, the Supreme Court rendered a decision that took away parts of the Voting Rights Act of the 1960s—specifically that part of the Act that required states to receive a federal ‘green light’ before changing their voting rules and requirements.  The states most impacted by this Supreme Court decision are located in the South.  One state that has imposed one of the most stringent voter registration requirements is North Carolina.  In 2013, on the heals of the Supreme Court decision, the North Carolina House passed Bill 589—voting requirements that would become law in 2016—just in time for the November.  Despite protests from the NAACP and Justice Department, in April of this year, A federal judge upheld the new law and dismissed the complaint by stating that the plaintiffs “failed to show that such disparities will have materially adverse effects on the ability of minority voters to cast a ballot and effectively exercise the electoral franchise.”. Opponents of Bill 589 argued that the new law is unfair to minorities and will impact the vote in North Carolina this November—both on the national and local playing fields.  In 2012 when 5 states imposed more stringent voting requirements, Jon Rogowski of Black Youth Projects, wrote the following:  “As many as 25 percent of African Americans do not currently possess government issued photo identification, which is likely to reduce the overall number of black voters. Second, because blacks hold photo identification at disproportionately lower rates than whites, new photo ID laws may dilute the influence of black votes and could shift election outcomes in competitive races.”

 The North Carolina voting regulations taking effect this year include:

·       The elimination of same-day voter registration

·       The end of out-of-precinct voting

·       Reducing early voting

·       Requirement to produce a government-issued ID before casting a ballot

As a point of fact, in, NY, NJ, VT, MA, CT—and many other states--No photo ID is required on election day.  

           North Carolina, one of the original 13 colonies, a state with 15 electoral votes, has had a most interesting voting record.  According to the Website, 270 to win, from 1876-1964 North Carolina was a Blue State and beginning in 1968 (no surprise the election after the civil rights legislation of 1965 was passed)-North Carolina voted strictly Republican until 2008, when Barrack Obama won the state by a mere 14,000 votes—the second closest race in 2008 (just behind Missouri).  In 2012, North Carolina was again the second closest race, just behind Florida, and, in that election Mitt Romney beat Obama by about 2%.  North Carolina is indeed a battleground state and all of its citizens deserve the right to have their constitutional rights upheld without impediments that are rooted in bias. 

           The Religious Action Center—the Reform Movement’s voice and conscience in Washington is organizing in partnership with the NAACP, Nitzavim: Standing up for Voter Protection and Participation.  Nitzavim—not a random name, rather the name of the Torah portion we read Yom Kippur morning—“Atem N’tzavim ha-yom, kulchem, lifnai Adonai Elohecha…You stand all of you this day before Adonai your God, to enter into a covenant….” Each one of us has the opportunity to assist in this sacred work: Here’s how:

From August 18-20—Reform Leaders will join with NAACP and Reform congregations in North Carolina to be inspired and train in voter registration for Raleigh and Durham.  The weekend selected spans the Hebrew date of the 15th of Av—in Hebrew TU B’Av—a holiday that is celebrated today in Israel as a minor holiday of love—a day of uplift during a month of sad commemoration. The intent is to change the tide of impediments for Black voters and assist Blacks to register. We have an opportunity to carry on the work Andy Goodman and Mickey Schwerner, who traveled from New York to MS to help Blacks register to vote, began more than a half-century ago.  There are three ways each of us can make a difference.  PLEASE NOTE THAT THE REGISTRATION DEADLINE IS FRIDAY, AUGUST 5.

You can:

·       Travel to North Caroline August 18-20 and participate in what I know will be a moving, inspirational and social justice weekend.

·       Participate virtually from home that weekend, if you can’t physically travel to North Carolina. The registration website provides details.

·       Help get the vote out here in New York by volunteering from August-November…this can be achieved as individuals or as a congregation.

·       On election day, members of the Reform Movement with legal expertise

 are encouraged to travel to North Carolina to protect the voting rights of those most vulnerable. 

           I have already signed up to participate virtually and invite you to check out the RAC’s website to see how you can help.  If there are those in the congregation willing to travel to North Carolina—perhaps we can be a Village Temple delegation. Again, please note the deadline to register to participate is Friday, August 5.  Registration information including the website link are on the table outside the sanctuary.

           It is fitting and appropriate that such an important venture be co-sponsored by the Religious Action Center—for, as one can glean from the RAC’s website, the “1964 Civil Rights Act and the 1965 Voting Rights Act were drafted in the RAC’s conference room by Jewish, African American and other civil rights leaders.” 

           We enter this month of Av—remembering those historic events that shook and reshaped Jewish life 2000 years ago.  We are mindful that baseless hatred is a cancer that eats away at the goodness of the human soul.  Nitzavim—we are commanded to stand up and do justice in our world…May we live our American values and help ensure the freedoms of all Americans—may we not let prejudice and hatred silence our voices or our resolve to do justice.  Shabbat Shalom

The Link to the RAC Website and Registration is:

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Join Us for a Special Shabbat Service Tonight!

Dear Friends,

Tonight, as we welcome the joy of Shabbat, our hearts and spirits are saddened and angered by the senseless act of terror that last night transformed nationalistic pride in France to a state of national mourning.  The path of terrorist destruction in Nice that, to date, has claimed 84 lives comes on the heels of the too many acts of terror unleashed on American soil and abroad.

Tonight, at Shabbat service at 6:45 pm, Cantor Bach and I, through special readings and song, will pay tribute to those whose lives have been snuffed out and provide us an opportunity to find comfort in our sacred community.

I hope you will join us.

Shabbat Shalom--may it indeed be a Shabbat of greater peace.

Rabbi Hirsch

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Remembering Elie Wiesel

For many of us, summer conjures up moments of family and personal fun.  Summer camps, specialty camps, teen trips, college programs, internships and family vacations make up the cacophony of activities that so many of us or our children participate in during the 10-12 week break between school endings and beginnings.

Growing up in Chicago in the 1950s and 60s—there were far fewer offerings than today.  In 1966 I expressed interest—I don’t recall from where it emerged—to go to summer camp, specifically Olin Sang Union Institute Camp—the midwest regional camp of the Reform Movement in Oconomowoc, Wisconsin.  As I applied late, I was on the wait-list for several months—I remember calling at least weekly to see if I had made-it off the wait list.  One day, I received the call that I was in—I was elated.   Like its URJ Northeast sister camps, Eisner and Crane Lake—Oconomowoc was a camp dedicated to fun, singing, swim, friendships, bug juice AND an immersion into Jewish learning and life.  Hebrew, worship, Jewish-themed learning whether on immigration or Israel became part of the camp daily experience.  There is no doubt in my mind, that attending Olin-Sang, now called OSRUI, deeply impacted my Jewish identity and was a principal driving force in my choosing to be a rabbi.  

It was during that first summer of camp that I was introduced to a Jewish author, who would forever influence my life.  Before lights out, our assistant counselor, Diane, sat with a flashlight, and for nearly the entire two week session, she read to us a chapter each evening, from Elie Wiesel’s chilling and heart-wrenching memoire, Night.  How many here have read it?  Night was not about statistics…it was about personal experience.  In April, 1944, Wiesel, at age 15 ½, was deported from Hungary—from where his family sought refuge, to Auschwitz, where he witnessed his mother and sister perish. Through the lens of a 15 ½ year old, we heard, through the black and white print, how his innocence, his perspective, his faith, his humanity were tested, over and over again. Originally written in French in 1956—after a 10 year self-imposed silence about the Holocaust, Night was published in English in 1960—the same year the first successful pacemaker surgery occurred, and three years before the invention of the touch-tone phone.  It was published one year before Alan Shepherd’s first manned-space launch.  

Indeed, Elie Wiesel has been the riveting spokesperson for Holocaust memory.  Having had the privilege of hearing him on many occasions—Wiesel’s deliberate, tempered and poignant articulation of Holocaust facts and emotions, like a beacon in a storm, lit the way for generations to grapple with the worst annihilation of the 20th century—the worst genocide in modern history.  Elie Wiesel was a statesman, not married to politics or self-gain, rather, his life’s calling was to be the consummate moral conscience against atrocities and to represent the Jewish soul of those who survived and those who perished in the Shoah.  His death, symbolizes for us, the passing of an era—for the generation that served as first-hand witnesses to the Holocaust—that generation is slowly fading into memory and with its passing we will no longer be able to hear the stories the same way…feel the tears….touch the horror.  For those of us who have family members who survived the Shoah…just think of how different it is, or will be for the generation who did not know them personally, to grasp the impact of the horror and darkness that blanketed the world.  I sometimes shake my head in disbelief, knowing that I was born less than a decade after the liberation of Auschwitz, less than a decade after bombs fell on Hiroshima and Nagasaki…and just 9 months after the Korean Conflict ended—all through lower and middle school—these wars were ancient history to me, as they were not engrained on my conscious memory.  Similarly today—those children born in 2010, outside of NY, will sadly think of September 11, 2001, in the same distant manner. 

But Elie Wiesel leaves us so much more than memory—he leaves a legacy that is embodied in his writings—both in his published books and in his quotes that have been memorialized for posterity.  

On July 4, NASA’s space probe, Juno, traveling at 165,000 miles per hour arrived in Jupiter’s atmosphere after traveling hundreds of millions of miles – what a 4th of July celebration took place at NASA this year!  Despite its many setbacks—Columbia, Challenger, the launch pad fire—how far space travel has come since Alan Shepherd’s orbit around earth in 1961

How sad it is, that the same number of years have passed since Wiesel’s Night was published in English, and yet, the world seemingly spins in an orbit of despair, hatred, prejudice, racism and genocide.  

Wiesel, in his life gifted humanity with quotes that evolved out of his life experience—his relentless drive to hold the world accountable—not only for the horror of the Holocaust—but for current catastrophes that tear at the fabric of the human spirit.  There are three Elie Wiesel quotes I want to share this Shabbat that remain timeless and are most poignant on this Shabbat.  The first is, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.”  Indeed, it is indifference of good men and women who, through their silence or their politics, pave the way for those filled with hatred to unleash their wrath on innocent victims.  

I am grateful that America is a county of free speech—it is one of our most precious rights AND….AND…when we hear word and see images on TV that shake the foundation of our country, we need to act with words and actions that rip apart those foundations of hate. I respect and uphold the right of every American to bare arms—to defend her or himself.  BUT--I do not understand or support individuals having the ability to purchase assault weapons—whose only purpose is to create havoc and pummel human life into bloody and lifeless carnage.  If there is a time for our voices to be heard in Washington—if there is a time for politicians to shatter the bottleneck of political posturing--this is the moment to seize—Im Lo Achshav—Ai Matai—If not now when.  

Indifference must not be the lens through which we, as Americans, experience violence and bias in our own cities—including here in New York.  I visited with a congregant late yesterday afternoon and took the L train from 8th Avenue and transferred at Union Sq to the 4 train—so I had no idea of the protest that had formed above me in Union Square.  It was only when I got home and watched the news did I see the outpouring of anger and pain—emerging from the overflow of frustration involving the recent shootings of Black men across America at the hands of law enforcement officers. Delrawn Small, Alton Sterling and Philando Castile—all black men—all shot dead in situations that appear not to have warranted extreme police reaction….Add their names to Michael Brown and Eric Gardner of two summers ago—and we can connect the bullets to multiple shootings of black men for which we scratch our heads and wonder, why?  In December, I and a thousand other clergy, attended the Clergy All In Day at Police Headquarters—the goal was to establish better community relations with neighborhood police officers and precincts.  In my mind I know there is sincere intentionality in bridging the schism between police and communities of color, in particular Black communities; however, it is clear, a growing percentage of the black communities—not living in neighborhoods at risk—feel threatened when in the presence of a police officer.  I remember when studying for my doctorate nearly 25 years ago—how a black woman minister shared being flagged through a red light by one officer to make way for an ambulance, only to be pulled over by another police officer a block down the street.  When she tried to explain what had happened, the second police officer put his hand on his holster and, holding fast to his gun said, ‘this gives me my authority’.  25 years ago—indeed negative police relations have not abated—only intensified over time.  As New Yorkers, we must find a way to raise our voices—not to remain indifferent—to bridge the chasm of racial tension in our midst.  And at the same time, our hearts go out to those family members of the officers killed last night in Dallas—non-random anger and hatred wreaking irreversible tragic results. It was not ISIS, rather, an Afghanistan veteran who unleashed terror in the streets of Dallas.  Nothing can justify the taking of innocent human lives, and, we must make every effort to understand Micah Johnson’s utter frustration turned violent. Serious efforts must be made to engender feelings of trust between law enforcement and communities of color—acting and being perceived as ‘other’ will only result in escalating violence—especially during the upcoming hot days of summer.   

The second quote that serves as our moral compass regarding our obligation not to turn a deaf ear or blind eye to the suffering of others is:  “Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion or political views, that place must—at that moment—become the center of the universe.”  Each time human carnage is reported on the news—the result of terrorist deathly venom—whether in Orlando, Newtown, Columbine, Santa Barbara, Fort Hood—Israel, Belgium, London, Paris, Turkey or Iraq—we must take a moment to mourn—to fight our inhuman—human tendency to become indifferent to bombings and mass shootings.  

The third quote that speaks to our Jewish core, is, Wiesel’s last line of his 1966 personal report on Soviet Jews, entitled, “The Jews of Silence.”  He wrote, “What torments me most is not the Jewish of silence I met in Russia but the silence of the Jews I live among today.”  His words, like a Shofar must stir us out of our complacency.  The Jewish people is enmeshed in a history of persecution.  We are commanded to remember and protect the stranger for we were strangers in a strange land.  It was that last line that compelled me in the 1980s to protest the Soviet Union’s ban on Jewish emigration by traveling with colleagues to Washington, D.C.—spending a day in jail—and knowing, a year later, that our efforts helped open the final door for Soviet Jews to leave Russia.  

Throughout history, the synagogue has been a beacon of light piercing the darkness of hate, indifference, prejudice and fear.  We have a moral imperative to kindle that light in our own day.  In the coming year, here at Village Temple, guest speakers whose lives have been dedicated to doing social justice will guide us in ways to make a difference—to turn our indifference or inaction into steps that can bring about positive change.   Perhaps our own Martin Luther King, Jr. observance can be an opportunity to build bridges—to engage in dialogue and healing.  

This past Yom HaShoah at Shaaray Tefila—a teen, in her remarks, shared a quote from the British Graffiti artist, Banski—who wrote, ““They say you die twice. One time when you stop breathing and a second time, a bit later on, when somebody says your name for the last time.”

May Elie Wiesel’s name be forever remembered—not only because of those who will say Kaddish for him—but for his legacy of memory and words and actions—that are now placed squarely on our shoulders to bear with pride and courage.  Shabbat Shalom.


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D'var Torah: Parashat Shelach



JULY 1, 2016

This weekend…this Shabbat… embraces both memory and future for Village Temple.  

Like Americans throughout our country, this weekend celebrates the birth of our nation.  Technically, the Continental Congress declared Independence on July 2, 1776; however, the final wording that became memorialized as the official document wasn’t approved until July 4 –only 2 days of wordsmithing--and so for 240 years Americans have commemorated this auspicious date—with parades…BBQ…Fire Works…aren’t we glad that our nation’s birth occurred in July and not February?

Some communities celebrate July 4th with reenactments of the reading of the Declaration of Independence.  Several years ago, Carole and I attended such a reading at Shakespeare and Company in Lenox, MA…and it amazed me as to how many people come year after year to touch that part of American history. 

Each year the 4th of July stands as a vivid reminder of our nation’s embrace of freedom…our nationalistic DNA includes historical memory of struggle, passion, debate, vision, and determination.  The Musical, Hamilton, has created for our generation…a new connection to our nation’s founding fathers and mothers.

And for us at Village Temple, this Shabbat marks a new chapter as well.  Our historical heritage is only a quarter of that, of our country’s--- nevertheless, for 68 years—Village Temple’s has been the spiritual home for individuals and families seeking a liberal Jewish connection…and for nearly thirty years…the doors of Village Temple have been open to fulfill the biblical command to care for the stranger and feed those who are in need.  

For the next year we are embarking upon a journey that will create a new beginning in this congregation’s history. But, we can only arrive at that new beginning, by working together as a community—honoring the past, ensuring healing where needed, and visioning toward the future.  Sacred community is part of our spiritual DNA—for, the Jewish people, first and foremost, is a sacred community—Torah was given publicly, not privately—the formal name of the Village Temple is Kehila Kedosha B’nai Israel—it begins with the same two words that defines every synagogue: Kehilah Kedoshah--The sacred community of B’nai Israel.  Even the English name—the Village Temple is an attempt to identify the congregation in relationship to its geographic community.  

There is much in this week’s Torah portion that can provide a blueprint for the way ‘community’ should and should not behave.  On the one hand, Parashat Shelach—is the second of five Torah portions that include some form of rebellion...individual and communal.  Last week’s portion concluded with Miriam being stricken with leprosy when she and Aaron rebelled against their brother, Moses’ leadership.  That portion contained the shortest prayer uttered in Torah—El Na Rafa Na La—God please, heal her please.  

In this week’s Parasha, Shelach, the historical setting is stills in the second year…the second month of the year…since the Israelites departure from Egypt.  Barely a year has passed since the revelation on Mount Sinai.  And—It has been a year of grumbling and opportunity.  

The portion begins… The Eternal One spoke to Moses, saying, "Send emissaries to scout the land of Canaan, which I am giving to the Israelite people; send one man from each of their ancestral tribes, each one a chieftain among them." The Hebrew phrase for send is, Shelach L’cha---Why doesn’t the text, usually preferring brevity of words, just say, Shelach—Send!  Why the phrase Shelach l’cha.  The medieval commentator Rashi, interprets this phrase as Send for yourself...according to your own judgment. According to Rashi, God doesn’t command Moses to send forth the 12 spies; rather it was at Moses’ discretion to do so. In looking at the phrase Shelach-L'cha,  I would like to suggest, as God called Abram to leave his native land with the words  Lech L’cha—Please Go—I  implore you to go—The simple command—Lech—did not suffice. So, too, in our portion, God knew that sending forth the spies was going to be seminal moment in both Moses’ and the Israelites journeys.  Perhaps God, considered to be ‘all-knowing’ in the biblical world, knew this biblical James Bond mission, was not to be an easy one and would have powerful consequences.

Indeed, the spies strategically go out and survey the land…12 in all, one chieftain from each tribe. Like Moses on Mt. Sinai, the spies spend 40 days surveying the land.  He instructed them:  

You shall see what [kind of] land it is, and the people who inhabit it; are they strong or weak? Are there few or many? יחוּרְאִיתֶ֥ם אֶת־הָאָ֖רֶץ מַה־הִ֑וא וְאֶת־הָעָם֙ הַיּשֵׁ֣ב עָלֶ֔יהָ הֶֽחָזָ֥ק הוּא֙ הֲרָפֶ֔ה הַמְעַ֥ט ה֖וּא אִם־רָֽב:

19And what of the land they inhabit? Is it good or bad? And what of the cities in which they reside are they in camps or in fortresses? יטוּמָ֣ה הָאָ֗רֶץ אֲשֶׁר־הוּא֙ ישֵׁ֣ב בָּ֔הּ הֲטוֹבָ֥ה הִ֖וא אִם־רָעָ֑ה וּמָ֣ה הֶֽעָרִ֗ים אֲשֶׁר־הוּא֙ יוֹשֵׁ֣ב בָּהֵ֔נָּה הַֽבְּמַֽחֲנִ֖ים אִ֥ם בְּמִבְצָרִֽים:

20What is the soil like is it fat or lean? Are there any trees in it or not? You shall be courageous and take from the fruit of the land."

After 40 days the spies returned….carrying on their shoulders a cluster of grapes.  As God promised them when they left Egypt—The Eternal One would bring them to a land flowing with milk and honey—and so it was.  God had told them the truth.  After affirming the goodness of the land, 10 of the spies reported that the land was occupied by people mightier than the Israelites—they instilled fear when they told in their attempt to conquer the land the Israelites would have to defeat the Moabites, Jebusites, Canaanites—all of whom would surround and defeat them if they engaged them in war.  The spies reported that they  saw the Annakites—the giant people of the Nephalim—who, according to Genesis, were descendants of the sons of God and daughters of men---the spies stated that they, the chieftains of their tribes, appeared to themselves like grasshoppers in comparison.  Despite Caleb’s attempt to assure the people that they would prevail, the people, despondent and untrusting in either Moses or God, woefully raised their voices in dread and rebellion.  

God reached a Divine moment of outrage…and uttered a silent Dayeinu, surely the Israelites whom God and Moses had led through the wilderness could only find comfort in the past—despite the hardship they endured in Egypt.  They could not embrace the destiny their redemption from Egypt promised.  The consequence of their action—40 years of wandering—one year for each day the scouts surveyed the land. 40 years—sufficient time for all of the Israelites to die out—save Joshua and Caleb.  Yet despite, all of their bitter complaining—the Israelites, under Moses’ leadership trudge on for 38 more years…laying the foundation for a future only the next generation would secure.  

Indeed, there are lessons to be learned from our ancient people’s wandering.  Perhaps, the single most beautiful part of Torah—is that it is so human.  It teaches us about the human response to change.  We catch glimpses and insights into human foibles and triumphs.  At times, we even see God waffling with emotion.  Parashat Shlach captures for us a moment in time when Israel’s wanderings through the wilderness pushed them backwards, rather than ahead.  

During the Revolutionary War, there were moments of defeat for the fledging American nation.  The Battle of Charleston in 1780 forced Major General Benjamin Lincoln to unconditionally surrender to British Lt. General Sir Henry Clinton.  Despite a devastating defeat, the patriots’ vision for independence prevailed…and through the efforts of soldiers with moxie—using guerilla warfare tactics...through the efforts of Francis Marion, Thomas Sumter and Nathanael Greene—names not found in Hamilton, The Musical, the Continental Army, eventually pushed the British out of South Carolina---and the British finally surrendered to the American army at Yorktown, VA in 1781.  

Two seminal moments in history—two distinct responses resulting in opposite outcomes—What were the driving factors that caused polar results?  How do they inform our Village Temple community as we move through a time of transition—without knowing the results that loom on the horizon? What role does each member play in ensuring a dynamic and spiritual future for this spiritual home?  

There are five key emotional and strategic components that are needed to ensure Village Temple’s success in the months ahead.  They are:

• Trust

• Courage, 

• Commitment

• Clear Vision 

• Leadership.  

Please remember, without the first four the fifth, leadership, is doomed to failure.   

A critical element is trust.  The Israelites lacked trust in God, in Moses and in themselves.   Their fear of the future, and external factors, paralyzed them from believing in God’s promise that God would bring them into that Promised Land flowing with milk and honey.  For us, trust doesn’t mean there can’t be disagreement or questions…debate and respectful challenge can provide important checks and balances to any decision making process.  But ultimately, the vision of those in leadership—elected representatives—whether members of the board or, in time, the rabbinic search committee, must be honored and supported.  And that vision must not emerge ex nihilo—out of nothingness or in a vacuum.  

In the coming weeks, each member of our congregation will have the opportunity to have his or her voice heard.  The community conversations scheduled throughout this summer and probably a few in September, will provide leadership with the core values of the congregation that will shape future vision. Your responses will inform leadership, what you consider to be the spiritual DNA of Village Temple. Indeed, there have been changes in the past year—and change is an event that happens—and how we respond to those changes—how we manage the emotional—what William Bridges calls, the human side of change…that is transition. The Israelites did not manage their change to freedom very effectively.  The coming year is about being change-‘able’—having the courage and fortitude to see the process through—holding fast to those unique qualities of Village Temple that differentiates it from neighboring congregations. The year will be about honoring the past, and having the courage to embrace a future that is not yet defined—the courage to try on new programs…new approaches…knowing that they are temporary solutions, and that transition can indeed be a time of opportunity as well—more about that on Rosh HaShanah.    For now, let us be content knowing that the future is totally dependent upon each member’s commitment to making Village Temple the best spiritual home possible.  Each person’s voice needs to be heard. Healing of feelings and relationships need to be part of that process as well—El na rafah na lana—God, please, heal us, please.  And hopefully in one year from today, this kehilah kedosha—this sacred congregation, united in vision, will welcome your next senior rabbi. Let us journey to that end together.  

Keyn Yehi Ratzon.  

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