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From the Rabbi
From the Rabbi - September 2020 PDF Print E-mail
In the midst of challenging times it's wonderful to be able to read a genuinely uplifting story about human kindness.  It’s even better when such a story is about a child in our own community.  Recently Isla Loeb, one of our youngest members and a student at the JCC pre-school, decided to do a wonderful mitzvah project.  While playing with the tzedakah tin at the JCC she asked whether poor people had toothbrushes and that led to her deciding to raise money and collect toothbrushes and toothpaste for homeless people in our city.  She wanted to make a difference and help those in need in her own inspirational way.  

Such tzedakah (charity) is a central theme of the High Holidays.  We are told that each of us is judged on Rosh Hashanah but that our judgement can be changed for the better by repentance, prayer and charity.  Where repentance connects us to our true selves, and prayer connects us to God, giving tzedakah connects us to our fellow human beings.  It reminds us that changing our fate in the coming year is not just about us.  It is about how we make the world better for others.  Our own fate is intricately tied to that of others and our self-fulfillment cannot exist apart from those with whom we share our world.  As Isla understood in her own way when she asked her question about whether poor people had toothbrushes, we are connected to one another and responsible for one another and we are all responsible for those around us, those who are close to us, our friends and family, and, as the Bible commands, “ the poor, the widow, the orphan and the stranger in our midst.”  

The power of tzedakah is that our judgement for the past year may be sealed but our fate and the fates those we can help in the year to come is not.  The amount of those who go hungry, who are oppressed, who are abused and neglected, who are homeless, and so many other calamities, their fate can be changed.  We can ease the burdens of the needy, give comfort to the afflicted and strength to the downtrodden.  We cannot control the challenges the world may throw at us but we can work to make the world a better and fairer place, a place in which people, when faced with events beyond their control, are not destroyed by them.

And Isla’s story reminds us that no matter who we are we can all make a difference, however small.  There is a story of a man who is walking on a beach and sees that there are lots of starfish stranded and dying along the shore.  He comes across a child carefully picking up starfish and throwing them back into the ocean.  The man asks why the child was doing this.  “Surely you don’t think you can save them all?”  “No” said the child while throwing a starfish into the ocean, “but I can save that one.” 

Each of us can do our part to change both our own fates and those of the poor and needy in our community.  And we can learn from children like Isla by being open to the childlike but powerful hope that our actions can, and will, make a difference.  

Rabbi Ilan Emanuel

From the Rabbi - August 2020 PDF Print E-mail
A midrash tells of Rabbi Yohanan Ben Zakkai and Rabbi Joshua, two of the leading lights in the rebirth of Judaism after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem in 70 CE.  As they walked together by the ruins of the Temple, Rabbi Joshua said, "Woe to us that the place where the atonement for the sins of Israel was made has been destroyed!" But Rabbi Yohanan Ben Zakkai replied, "Do not be grieved, my son. Do you not know that we have a means of making atonement that is as good as this? And what is it? Gemilut hassadim - acts of loving-kindness, as it is said, 'For I desire hesed - loving-kindness - and not sacrifice!'" (Hosea 6:6).

Rabbi Joshua, understandably, looked back at what was lost and wondered what it meant to be Jewish without the Temple and sacrifices that had been so central to them until then. Yochanan saw something different. In rubble of Temple, Yochanan ben Zachai understood that there was no going back and that something new had arisen.  Rabbi Joshua looked backwards to what was lost and was, understandably, distressed, while Rabbi Yochanan looked forward to what could emerge from the rubble, and was hopeful.  He understood that the destruction of the Temple was a great loss, but that in such loss were the seeds of something new, different, and perhaps better and more enduring.  Indeed, the rabbinic Judaism that did emerge in the aftermath of this destruction has been a tradition of great dynamism, creativity, and continual reinvention for the last two millennia.  

I was recently asked by someone will there be Jewish community in America in 50 years.  The answer is almost certainly yes, but it will, inevitably, look very different.  And it has always been thus.  2000 years after the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, we are still here, and while Judaism looks very different, that’s a good thing. 

As we continue to deal with the corona virus, we can see already that this will result in changes in Jewish and secular life.  Trends that were being predicted in how our institutions were headed may be accelerated, slowed down, or those trajectories may be changed completely in ways we could never have predicted or imagined.  

For both the Jewish community and society as a whole, change is hard, especially change that comes from hardship, as we are seeing today and may likely see for years to come. But such change can also be good, positive and hopeful. As Yochanan ben Zachai noted to Rabbi Joshua so many centuries ago, whatever change may bring we will still be needed and able to do what is essential to the betterment of human existence – acts of gemillut hassadim, loving kindness.  Our task will be to look forward rather than backwards, to embrace the inevitable changes and find new and better ways be bring love, kindness, and justice into a world that will continue to need it, perhaps more than ever.  

Rabbi Ilan Emanuel

From the Rabbi - June 2020 PDF Print E-mail
“Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you've got till it's gone.” ― Joni Mitchell

As we begin to emerge from our isolation it has become clear that this crisis has resulted in much innovation in how to maintain religious life virtually.  That innovation and the creative use of technology, social media etc. will undoubtably change how we interact with religious life for many years to come.  

But it’s also true that our collective experience in the lockdown wilderness has also given us an opportunity to consider how we appreciate things that we have always had but maybe had taken for granted.  As the scope of many of our lives has been narrowed, many of us have realized how much we have not focused enough on the simpler things in life that we tend to take for granted as we rush around in our regular life.  It may not have been our choice but we have all, in one way or another, had to slow down and appreciate many of the simpler joys that we probably didn’t appreciate enough before.  

From a Jewish perspective it has also been a reminder of the depth and breadth of Jewish tradition and wisdom.  Jews all around the world have had to face a calamity like nothing we have ever seen before. And we have all been amazed and comforted by the extent to which we have found that our tradition holds meaning, insight, and inspiration for our age as much every other age.  As we read in the Torah of our ancestors wandering in the wilderness we can learn from their experience of uncertainty and doubt and know that just as they made their way to the promised land, so will we.  And we have learned in our Torah study (over Zoom!), in the stories of the Talmudic sages, what it means to live through difficult times (as many Jews have) and how to act morally and spiritually, maintaining our commitment to doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with G-d, in the midst of the most challenging times and despite great tragedy.  

But perhaps the greatest aspect of “you don't know what you've got till it's gone” for synagogues and churches has been the realization that we really miss being with each other. In the past decades  many temple and churches have noticed a downturn in attendance and involvement in activities. But when we are unable to meet in person we have begun to realize how important community really is. 

As much as we have been able to keep places of worship “open” even while the buildings are closed, we all miss the experience of being able to connect in person.  Engagement in community is a fundamental part of what it means to be Jewish. Virtual community has been a creative and inspirational revelation.  So many have found it wonderful to connect with each other online, especially those who are less able to get to temple or church in the regular course of things.  And much of this will continue in one way or another as we emerge from isolation.  But its also clear how much people yearn for in-person community, how much people feel, now that they have not been able to attend their usual activities in churches and synagogues for a few months, that they feel that loss greatly. As we emerge slowly but surely from our isolation and as we begin to reconnect more and more in person, we can hope that we will not forget how it felt to be unable to to do so. 

No one wanted this unfortunate experience but hopefully it will inspire us to a greater appreciation of the wisdom of our tradition and act as inspiration for us to recommit ourselves to creating real human connection as part of synagogue life and in all aspects of our lives.  

Rabbi Ilan Emanuel

From the Rabbi - May 2020 PDF Print E-mail
In memory of Rabbi Kenneth Roseman
I have had many friends in life, many teachers, many colleagues, and a few mentors.  Rabbi Kenneth Roseman may be the only person I can truly describe as all of those things and more.  He was a towering intellect and a towering physical presence, who brought all his many years of varied and rich experience to the life of the congregation and to the wider Corpus Christi community.  He leaves an unforgettable legacy in the lives of so many who he taught, whose lifecycles he made holy, and with whom he connected in the many communal roles he played.  
Rabbi Roseman was committed to learning and teaching in every form, with a unique ability to share his great knowledge and intellect in a way that was accessible and welcoming to all levels of learners and full of wit and wisdom.  Whether he was teaching in Torah study, speaking to the City Council, engaging in interfaith work, or selling pickles at Food Fest in his trademark pickle hat, he was able to make everything into an opportunity for questioning, teaching, and sharing edifying stories, so that all who met him felt they had learned something from the experience.  

In keeping with the fact that, in Hebrew, his name “Ken” means “yes”, he was dedicated to leading in a way that helped others access Judaism and justice.  When Rabbi Roseman was the dean of Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, he was known as Coach, not just because of his physical stature but because the students considered him their supporter, their mentor and protector and not just the dean.  He was particularly proud of having led an effort many years ago to build a wheelchair accessible ramp in the sanctuary of his temple at the time so that a Bar Mitzvah who was in a wheelchair could access the bima with dignity, and with a broad grin.  

But, in keeping with the biblical prophetic call for justice, he was also more than willing to say “No” to injustice and to speak out against those who ignored the oppression of the modern equivalents of the stranger, the widow and the orphan.  He was unfailingly the first and most insistent voice at our clergy alliance meetings to insist that we hold the powers-that-be accountable and speak out for those who have no voice and no power of their own.  

He did all of this serious stuff with a sense of humor and joie de vivre, always there to make people laugh as well as think, and always ready to share his trademark puns (which he would allow to unfold with the utmost seriousness until the punchline!).  
And, perhaps even more than teaching, what gave him the greatest joy was his family, as we could see from the pleasure he showed whenever he had the opportunity to share good news about his family, especially the achievements of his grandchildren. 
Ken was a rabbi, a coach, a teacher, a mentor, a husband, a father, a grandfather, a colleague, a friend and so much more to so many people.  No amount of words can describe what he meant to this community and what we have lost with his passing.  Traditionally we say after someone dies “may their memory be a blessing.” In the case of Rabbi Roseman, there is no question of “may”.  His memory WILL be a blessing to all who had the honor of meeting him and learning from him. He was a great man, a great Rabbi, and a great mensch.

Rabbi Ilan Emanuel

From the Rabbi - April 2020 PDF Print E-mail
There is a poem online, written in response to the current situation of shutdowns and self-isolation brought about by the COVID 19 virus, that makes a comparison with Shabbat.  It says: 

What if you thought of it
as the Jews consider the Sabbath—
the most sacred of times?
Cease from travel. Cease from buying and selling.
Give up, just for now, on trying to make the world
different than it is. Sing. Pray. Touch only those
to whom you commit your life. (Lynn Unger)

When I first read this I was not sure what to make of it.  It bothered me to compare what we were going through to Shabbat because Shabbat is a joyous time, something we choose, something that comes from a good and divine source. What we are experiencing now is none of those things.  We are being forced to isolate and physically distance because of a pandemic.  

But I realized that the comparison is not in why this is happening but in how we can react, how we choose to face this and what opportunities we find in the midst of the current hardship. We have no control over the sad fact that our regular activity, our usual hustle and bustle, is being closed down but we can take the opportunity to appreciate those simpler joys we often ignore the rest of the time. And when this is over we shall emerge different, hopefully more appreciative of what we have.

Another poem on Facebook made this point well: 
When this is over, may we never again take for granted
A handshake with a stranger, Full shelves at the store
Conversations with neighbors, A crowded theater
Friday night out, A routine check-up
The school rush each morning, Coffee with friends
The stadium roaring, each deep breath
A boring Tuesday, life itself. (Laura Kelly Fanucci)

None of us chose to be in this situation and none of us want  to be experiencing what we are dealing with now. But, while we are, we have an opportunity not only to be more appreciative of the simple things we have now but to hold on to that feeling into the future after we have come out the other side of this.

At that time we hope we will be more engaged in life as we experience it, having felt what it is to not be able to experience life as we would like today. As this second poem concludes:

When this ends may we find 
that we have become more like the people 
we wanted to be 
we were called to be 
we hoped to be 
and may we stay
that way – better
for each other.

Rabbi Ilan Emanuel

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