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Highlights of 2017 URJ Biennial

I just returned from an amazing Biennial Convention of the Union for Reform Judaism and was Joined by Alex Tansky and Carole Rivel.  it was an incredible gathering of 5500+ from Reform Jewish communities in North America and around the world.  Music-- inspiring.  Speakers-- engaging and challenging. Workshops--informative  Services --uplifting.  Community--strengthened.  Attached are clips featuring new social justice pieces by Julie Silver and Peri Smilow.  Comments from Senator Elizabeth Warren and Rev. Dr. William J. Barber.  Friday night song session with not so Jewish music (Jewish music also present). 

Senator Elizabeth Warren

Rev. Dr. William J. Barber

Pictures of one Havdallah gathering featuring our music teacher/song leader Rose Snitz--Jewish rock radio stage--with Carole Rivel on piano--our congregation featured with the hundreds of others on the convention center pillars.  AND there was much, much more.  

Shabbat Singalong

Nava Tehila

Sanctuary by Julie Silver

I hope you enjoy these clips.  Check out URJ Blog for full stream of plenary sessions/services!  Join me at the next Biennial in Chicago, Dec. 11-15, 2019.  

Havdallah with Rose Snitz 

 

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The 1000 Ministers March

Monday, I spent the day in Washington D.C., with 3000 clergy (and some lay leaders) of all faiths.  It was The 1000 Ministers March, attended by 3000 people.  300 Reform rabbis and lay people were part of the marchers.  Although some man think the March was a response to Charlottesville, in fact, the Rev. Al Sharpton, founder and president of the National Action Network, organized the March months before that tragic Saturday.  The March was scheduled for August 28—an historic date., for it was on August 28, 1963 that the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. delivered his , now famous, I have a dream speech.  The date of his speech was rooted in another historical moment.  It was on August 28, 1955 (the year after I was born) that 14 year-old Emmett Till, was murdered by two white men in Money, MS.  His crime—he flirted with a white cashier.  His death, like Stonewall, ignited the Civil Rights Movement.  His death was a wake-up call to the black community.  

In 1983, I went to Washington for the 20th Anniversary March of Dr. King’s speech.  It was a powerful experience, and yet, very different from Monday’s gathering.  The primary issue in 1983 was Civil Rights for the black community.  It focused on how far Civil Rights still had to go to reach real equality for America’s African American community.  In contrast, Monday’s March focused on a plethora of issues spanning from Black Lives Matter to GLBTQ inclusion, to antisemitism , to poverty, to bigotry….and on and on.  Jews and Blacks stood united in common cause and vision.   Surely in past years I had concerns/issues with Rev. Sharpton and Rev. Jesse Jackson (I am from Chicago with a long memory of his positions); and yet, I had the overwhelming feeling that as we enter into the unchartered waters of 2017 and beyond, there is a profound need for racial and religious unity.  Monday’s March was not about politics—it was about theology.  It resonated with a call of moral justice.  Quoting numerous religious sources, speaker after speaker raised up one theme, core to the upcoming High Holy Days:  teshuvah—turning from bigotry and racial bias and turning toward repentance, justice, love, protecting the stranger.  The call to action is one of religious partnership—galvanizing the forces of mainstream religious leaders from all sectors of the religious world in America.  In the months ahead, even as we will strive to deepen ties within our temple community, we will also reach out to build alliances with those who cherish the same rights and values we hold precious, as human beings created in God’s image—and as a Jewish community.

L’shalom,

Rabbi Hirsch

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Tragedy At Charlottesville

In the Talmud we are taught: Whoever destroys a soul, it is considered as if s/he destroyed an entire world. And whoever saves a life, it is considered as if s/he saved an entire world. (Mishneh Sanhedrin)

Shabbat-a day of rest and renewal, remembering the beauty and wonder of creation-was shattered-it's world was destroyed this past weekend as white nationalists, neo-Nazis and alt-right members clashed with anti-protestors in Charlottesville, VA.  Protest is a cornerstone of American history; it is woven into the fabric of our American identity.  In recent decades we can name numerous seminal moments when American voices were raised in protest: Civil Rights, anti-nuclear weapons, Gay Rights, Kent State, Women's Choice, Viet Nam, Occupy Wall Street, Israel and Palestinian rights. Even when we disagree with the reason for a particular protest, our Constitution defends the right to protest.  Forty years ago, neo-Nazi leader Frank Collins won in court the constitutional right to march with a band of brown-shirt neo-Nazis through Skokie, IL, home to 8000-9000 Holocaust survivors.  The march venue ultimately was moved from Skokie to Chicago.

On Saturday, Heather M. Heyer's world was destroyed and her family and friends are trying to pick up the broken fragments of their hearts and lives.  Her death was not the result of out-of-control violence emerging from face-to-face protest/counter-protest.  James Alex Field, in an act of alleged terrorismdrove his car into the crowd of counter-protesters to cause injury and death.   Like those who masterminded the bombings in Oklahoma City, (if found guilty) James Alex Field's act was one of homegrown, domestic terrorism.  White supremacists that applaud his actions and justify his deadly rampage are supporters of terrorism.  He and they must be condemned. 

A second world was destroyed in recent days as well:  America as a protector of all its citizens. Our president's refusal to condemn by name those whose philosophy espouse white supremacist rhetoric-those who strive to cleanse America of racial minorities and Jews-does not make America great again.   Statements 'from the white house' are not equal to direct statements from the president. His generic words of condemnation of both sides of the Charlottesville protest have served to vindicate white supremacists both in Charlottesville and across our nation.  The permission to hate that was unleashed during the presidential campaign has given way to acting on that hatred and not being held accountable. Democrats and Republicans alike have implored-demanded the President be specific in his condemnations.  Would the president heed the calls of Senator Cory Gardner's (R. CO) tweet: "Mr. President, we must call evil by its name. These were white supremacists and this was domestic terrorism." And Mark Rubio tweet, there was "nothing patriotic about Nazis, the KKK or White Supremacists.  It's the direct opposite of what America seeks to be."

On Saturday, Heather Heyer's life (and the lives of 2 officers and those wounded) was destroyed, but, her soul will not be destroyed.  We must keep her soul alive.  We cannot stay silent when words of hatred are transformed to acts of violence.  Heather Heyer was a champion for justice.  We must carry her torch of love and justice.  As she posted on her Facebook Page words echoed after the election, "If you're not outraged, you're not paying attention."

We must pay attention!  We must be outraged!  We must protect the lives and rights of those Americans most vulnerable to demonic hate. 

And as our teacher Hillel taught, V'lo achshav Ai Matai-And if not now, when?

May Heather's memory be for blessing.  May we be inspired by her passion.

L'shalom

Rabbi Deborah A. Hirsch

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Gay Pride Shabbat

It’s hard to believe that just over a year has passed since the Orlando massacre at the Pulse Night Club. On June 12, 2016, Omar Mateen murdered 49 individuals and injured 58 others during an anti-gay shooting rampage that surreally pierced the soul of the city known for Tinkerbell, Harry Potter and Mickey Mouse. It was a painful reminder that despite the defeat of DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act) in 2013 and the embrace many In the LGBTQ community have felt, anti-gay sentiment is still palpable within our country. The November elections signaled a green light of intolerance for Muslims, immigrants, Blacks, Jews and those in the LGBTQ community, to mention a just a few groups.

Fifty-eight years ago, the Stonewall Riots down the street from our temple, launched the Gay Rights Movement. Fifty-eight years later, despite a resurgence of xenophobia and anti-gay rhetoric in our country, we can be proud of the strides made in guaranteeing Gay rights and normalizing gay relationships. As a Reform Jewish congregation can also be proud of the strides made in Judaism both to counter biblical quotes taken out of context and to embrace LGBTQ Jews into our synagogues, homes and families. I always smile when I read the Sunday Styles section of the New York Times and see listings of more than one Gay couple that stood under the chupah.

Gay pride weekend beckons us to celebrate the advancement of Gay Rights across the country and in our own community.

On Friday, June 23rd at 6:45, join us at the Village Temple for a special Gay Pride Shabbat. We pride ourselves on being a diverse and accepting community. Through music, liturgy and readings we will celebrate this important milestone in human rights. I will share some personal reflections and provide a backdrop of Reform Judaism’s early struggle with Gay Rights and its ultimate embrace, celebration and unwavering support for the LGBTQ community.

Judy Garland died a week before Stonewall and has been heralded as a Gay Icon. Cruise ships hold gatherings for Friends of Dorothy—opportunities for the LGBTQ community to meet and mingle. Her classic song—Over the Rainbow—was a beacon of hope for so many during the early days of the Gay Movement and still kindles a spark of hope in so many hearts today.

Show your Pride and be with us on June 23.

 

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L’Shana Tovah

Thanks to everyone who participated in our High Holy Day services—with special thanks to all of those who volunteered. Rabbi Hirsch brought wisdom, kindness and intellectual force to the Days of Awe. You can read her sermons by clicking here.  And when our cantorial soloist Gerard Edery had to go undergo emergency back surgery in Poland,  where he is still recovering, Rabbi Hirsch on very short notice arranged for two wonderful substitutes—Cantor Nancy Ginsberg for Rosh Hashanah and soloist Ellen Allard for Yom Kippur. Here is an excerpt from our Kol Nidre co-presidents speech, which we offer here as a reflection on the place of The Village Temple in the lives of many people:

When Jerry and I tell people we are co-presidents of our shul we usually get one of two responses.

Pity.

Or abject pity.

But tonight, on this night of self-examination, we can honestly say you shouldn’t feel sorry for us at all!

I’m not saying there haven’t been very tough moments over this past year, as we began a transition.

It was a difficult process, to be sure. Passions were aroused. Feelings were hurt. Throughout it all, Jerry and I were impressed by how much people cared.

We have been gratified to see how many of you were willing to engage in conversations with Rabbi Hirsch about what the synagogue means to you. It has been a privilege to hear what the Village Temple has meant for you—at times of celebration and at times of stress and sorrow.

When I first became co-president more than three years ago, I paid a visit to Harriet Zimmer. Harriet is one of the founding mothers of The Village Temple and is now our oldest congregant—97 years old. I asked her what I needed to know about our congregation.

She didn’t hesitate.

“The temple is the temple,” she said.

I was taken aback at this Yoda like response. The temple is the temple?

Then she explained. “the Village Temple has been around since 1948,” she said. “Rabbis change, cantors change, people come and go. But The Village Temple is always there for all of us.”

So here we are, on this Kol Nidre evening, here for one another, so we don’t have to reach inside by ourselves.

And the Village Temple is here for all of us, as it always has been, for generations before us.

Wishing you an easy fast, and a hopeful New Year.

 

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