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From the Rabbi - October 2013 PDF Print E-mail
Dear Friends:

This is going to date me, big time. When I was a child in Washington, DC, just after the conclusion of WWII, we used to hear about the U.S. Military Academy (West Point) football team, and, especially, two stand-out players.  One was called Mr. Outside; his real name was Felix “Doc” Blanchard.  His partner was Glenn Davis, Mr. Inside.  Together, they made an irresistible running combination, and each of them won the Heisman Trophy, Blanchard in 1945 and Davis a year later.  They were a legend: Mr. Inside and Mr. Outside.

As the college football season swings into the fullness of its schedule in October, these two players came to my mind.  I’ve been thinking about them because I have come to recognize that a one-dimensional running attack cannot succeed.  Today, of course, the passing game has risen to a much higher prominence, but if all you have is a fullback who plows ahead for “three yards and a cloud of dust,” you aren’t going to win many games.  So, too, if your offense is limited to a halfback who can scoot wide around the end, the defense will catch on rather quickly and you’ll again be on the short end of the score.  One without the other doesn’t get you very far.   The only way to make decent headway as a football team is to have a diversified, multifaceted offense.

Now, if you apply this thinking to Congregation Beth Israel, you might want to think about our equivalents to Mr. Outside and Mr. Inside.  It is a wonderful source of pride that our members take such a significant part in the welfare of the general community of Corpus Christi.  In almost every important and progressive dimension of our public life, members of this congregation are active, often as leaders.  The major charities of our community all benefit from leadership, participation and contributions from our members.  Arts, educational and health-related causes almost always have meaningful participation from CBI membership.  Many of the civic clubs of our city, like Rotary and Masons and others, welcome and benefit from the involvement of our people.  And, whether you agree with all the proposals or not, it is hard to find an economic development project in our community that does not have major Jewish involvement.  Our “Mr. Outside” is very healthy and a source of considerable gratification to all of us.

But what about our “Mr. Inside.”  With our upcoming Jewish Food Fest, a large number of you will be involved, and that’s wonderful.  But for most of the other activities that the congregation offers, the same ten percent of our membership comes over and over again.  Ninety percent of you do not participate in learning or worship or virtually any other programs.  Don’t take my word for it.  I am tempted to say look at the congregation on a typical Friday night or at any adult education session – I’d say “look” except that most of you aren’t there to see the evidence.  

Our “Mr. Inside” is suffering a major anemic plague, and that’s serious because, as I noted with a football team, unless you have both dimensions of the team healthy and working together, the offense stalls and goes virtually nowhere.  So, I challenge you.  If you want CBI to be a “winning congregation,” you have an obligation to help reinvigorate the internal dimension of our involvement and program.  We’re offering some really fine opportunities for your participation.  Now, it’s up to you to make the choice and to commit as much energy and effort to the “Inside” as you do to the “outside.”  No one can make this choice for you, but we can point to the consequences of a negative choice – a congregation that slowly dwindles and dies – and the impact of a positive choice – a congregation that thrives, excites its membership and makes a major contribution to the welfare of the entire community.

Looking forward to seeing you inside our congregation, I send you greetings of Shalom.

Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi

 
From the Rabbi - September 2013 PDF Print E-mail
Dear Members of CBI:

    Phyllis and I send you our most heartfelt and sincere good wishes for the coming New Year.  We hope and pray that it will be a year of health and happiness, successful achievements and the absolute minimum of disappointments.  5774 will be a notable year, as well, for our congregation, as we prepare to welcome a new rabbi.  May our Search Committee be blessed with wonderful applicants and with wisdom and discernment as they seek a new leader for our community.

     Members of the congregation are often both kind and discreet; you don’t often say what is on your mind, especially if the remarks are tinged with a negative slant.  So, let me share with you one largely unspoken comment.  It’s about the High Holydays in general, but especially about Yom Kippur.  Here’s the gist of what I’ve occasionally heard (and what I suppose is more commonly suppressed):

“What a downer!  All we do is talk about sin.  Yom Kippur is not only a tiring and long day, but it’s insufferably depressing.  Let’s lighten up a bit.”

Let me respond with three comments.

    First, if you are familiar with the typical Shabbat services, you might recognize that fifty-one weeks during the year we hardly ever talk about sin.  In the typical Friday evening service, the word does not even appear, though we do once mention faults and allude to sorrows.  Still, even if you place the entirety of Yom Kippur in the context of the full year, one could argue pretty easily that, rather than over-emphasize sin, we focus more on the opportunities we have to do good.

    Second, is it so wrong once-in-a-while to remind ourselves of our own imperfections?  Spiritual honesty ought to compel us occasionally to confront the darker side of our personalities.  To be sure, we don’t enjoy being reminded of the occasions when we fell short of the ideal, but those moments are as much our reality as are happier and better times.  If we enjoy the latter experiences, then candor requires that we also acknowledge times that fell short of glorious and laudable success.
    
    Finally, I especially want to speak to those of you who absent yourselves from the concluding service.  From my vantage, you are missing the best part of Yom Kippur.  During the afternoon, we move from a general and quiet spiritual searching to the Yizkor service.  Just at the moment when our vulnerability is enhanced by hunger, fatigue and the words we speak, we turn to the ultimate downer, the deaths of loved ones and the contemplation of our own mortality.  But then something remarkable occurs.  Here are the words:  “Now, as evening falls, light dawns within us; hope and trust revive.  The shadow that darkened our spirit is vanished and through the passing cloud there breaks, with the last rays of the setting sun, the radiance of Your forgiving peace.  We are restored, renewed by Your love.”
    
    Yes, you might think of Yom Kippur as a lugubrious day.  But only if you miss its optimistic and joyous conclusion.  Make it to the Ne’ilah (concluding) service, and I promise you that you will leave the synagogue buoyed on a wave of positive feeling and hope.

    Shanah tovah tikateivu,
    Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi
 
From the Rabbi - August 2013 PDF Print E-mail
Dear Friends:

We get questions.  Just when we think we’ve heard everything, we are confronted with some new challenge.  Debbie has become an expert at fending off somewhat unbalanced individuals who show up and announce that they want to become Jewish and join the congregation.  Most of these people have never been inside a synagogue, have no idea what being a Jew entails, often cannot even use appropriate vocabulary.  But somehow they’ve gotten the idea that this is where they need to be.  She invites them to join us for Shabbat services, gives them a copy of the CBI Newsletter, and, most often, we never hear from them again.

    In early July, I had a non-Jewish guest who wanted me to write an invitation to his Jewish brother-in-law in California to come for a visit in Corpus Christi.  The only problem I had was that he wanted the invitation to be in Yiddish.  I’m pretty good at language, but I am hardly fluent in Yiddish.  I did the best I could, but if someone from California speaking Yiddish shows up at your house in January you can blame me.  He did compensate me for my stilted efforts with a copy of a map of the United States, produced by the Industrial Removal Office in the 1910s to encourage Jewish immigrants to East Coast cities, already crowded with newcomers, to move west.  The entire map and all its place names are spelled out in Yiddish!  It’s really fascinating, and I’m going to have it framed and posted so you can find your way around our nation.

    Questions are intrinsic to the High Holydays.  (After all, we’re Jewish, so questions come most naturally to us.)  The shofar, especially, is an instrument for questioning.  Long before the shofar became an instrument of religious purpose, it was a device used by indigenous people in the land of Canaan for communication.  You recognize, of course, that we can communicate in non-verbal ways: music, ballet, art, smoke signals, gestures and facial expressions, various symbols like flags – all of these convey messages, but without words.  So, think of two shepherds on the hills of Judea.  One is aware of a predator that is stalking his flock, and he wants to warn his friend to be vigilant.  A blasting shofar alert carries across the valley and alerts his friend to a potential danger.  It’s called a shofar because, after all, you can hear it sho far away.  So, think of the shofar as the mobile telephone of the ancient Near East; it communicates.

    Eventually, the shofar became associated with religious ceremony, with the new moon and with Rosh HaShanah.  When we blow the shofar during our New Year’s services, we are also communicating, communicating two questions that are at the heart of the holyday.

    The first question asks us to consider:  “How do your rate your behavior during the past year relative to the expectations of the Jewish tradition and the standards that are set for us in the name of God?”  Inevitably, all of us, if we are honest, are forced to admit that we have fallen short of the mark.  There are things we did not do – or do enough – and there are actions that we wish we had not done.  With some personal embarrassment, we accept ourselves as imperfect human beings, come face-to-face with our shortcomings and seek to make amends for our mistakes when we still can.

    But there is a second question that the shofar asks.  “In the coming year, how can you modify your behavior to improve on the record of the past year?”  The message of Rosh HaShanah is essentially optimistic.  It assumes that improvement is always possible, that each of us can strive for and achieve a better result in our lives.  We know we are never going to be perfect, but “better” is a wonderful aspiration and a worthy ambition.  And Judaism says that this goal is within our grasp.

    So the High Holydays are a time for listening to the questions of our tradition and then forging your own answers.  As you do this, Phyllis and I wish you a very happy 5774.  May it be a year of great fulfillment and happiness for you, your family and all who are dear to you and a year in which the dream of shalom, of peace, finds greater reality in our troubled world.
         
   Shanah Tova Tikateivu,
                                    Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi

 
From the Rabbi - June & July 2013 PDF Print E-mail

Dear Friends:

Most of the time, my columns are 100% original, mostly because I think you have the right to know what I believe and what I consider important.  But once in a while, someone says what I wish I had said, only a lot better.  The column I am reproducing below was written by Frank Bruni, a writer for the New York Times.  Bruni has written about President George W. Bush, has been the paper’s Rome correspondent, has served as its food critic and has frequently written for its Sunday Magazine.  I’ve taken the editorial liberty of modifying this article so that it also applies to Jews; my changes are in italics and brackets.  This article appeared on the NYT op-ed page on May 7, 2013.  I hope it stimulates your thinking as much as it did mine.

RELIGION BEYOND THE RIGHT

    As the Boy Scouts of America reassesses its ban on gay scouts and leaders, we’re hearing a lot about the organization’s need to remain sensitive to people whose religions condemn homosexual behavior.  Their morals must be properly respected, their God aptly revered.
    But what about the morals and the God of people whose religions exhort them to be inclusive and to treat gays and lesbians with the same dignity as anyone else?  There are many  Americans in this camp, and their opposition to the Scouts’ ban is as faith-based as the stance of those who want it maintained.
    Take Scott Ward, 48, a public relations executive and married father of three in Takoma Park, Md.  He’s a scout leader, with a 10-year-old son who’s a scout.  He’s also an elder in his Presbyterian church.  And for him, the ban must go not in spite of what Christianity [and Judaism] says about homosexuality (or what selective literalists have decided it says) but because of what it says about humanity.  “From my faith perspective, singling out people for exclusion from the life of the church [synagogue] or the life of the community cannot possibly be part of God’s plan….If you look at the people Jesus [God, the biblical prophets] tended to be most suspicious of, they were people who sat in positions of authority to say that they had the unique ability to judge others.”
    We refer incessantly in this country to the “religious right,” a phrase routinely presented as if it’s some sort of syllogism: to be devoutly religious is to gravitate to a certain side of the political spectrum, one set of values dictating the other.  “Christian [Jewish] conservatives” is an almost equally ubiquitous bit of alliteration.  But there’s a religious center.  A religious left.  There are Christian [and Jewish] moderates and Christian [and Jewish] liberals; less alliterative and less dogmatic, but perhaps no less concerned with acting in ways that reflect moral ideals.  We should better acknowledge that and them.  And we should stop equating conventional piety with certain issues only and sexual morality above other kinds.
    Our tendency to do that was illustrated by the hullabaloo last year over the Nuns on the Bus.  The Vatican officials who wanted them to be more assertively anti-abortion and anti-birth control were portrayed as the dutiful guardians of tradition, while the nuns, focused on matters of economic justice were the rebels.  Why?  It’s as fundamentally Catholic and Christian [and Jewish] to care about the underprivileged as to safeguard the unborn (or to combat homosexuality).  Indeed, many Catholics [and Jews and other religious people] look to a politician’s social welfare policies as they do to other positions, and vote in a manner that would be accorded a label other than conservative.  Many people of faith are pacifists, and that’s a decisive factor in how they cast their ballots, though this concern is infrequently characterized in religious terms.
    “I find it perplexing the way the ‘moral values’ phrase is used,” said the Rev. Mark Greiner, the pastor of the Presbyterian church that Ward attends.  “Concern for the environment, concern for workers’ rights: those are moral values” he told me.  “But the phrase ends up being limited to matters of human sexuality, as if Jesus [God] was primarily concerned with what people did with their reproductive parts.  It’s crazy-making.” Greiner wants the ban on gay scouts and leaders lifted.
    Later this month, the organization’s National Council will vote on a recommendation that the ban on gay scouts be lifted but the prohibition against gay leaders be preserved,  The Mormons have indicated that they can live with this.  The National Catholic Committee on Scouting has been vague.  The Baptists have cried foul, as have evangelicals like Tony Perkins, the president of the Family Research Council, which sponsored a webcast over the weekend called “Stand with Scouts Sunday.”  Rick Perry, the Texas governor, appeared on it to denounce any change in the ban, and for good measure called homosexuality “the flavor of the month.”  Like pralines n’cream, I guess.
    But that’s not the whole story.  The Episcopal Church wants all aspects of the ban lifted, as does the National Jewish Committee on Scouting, whose former chairman, a Baltimore lawyer named Jay Lenrow told me that while no troop should be forced to choose a gay leader, no troop should be prevented from doing so, either.  He added that our country was founded on the principle of religious freedom: that the Scouts’ bylaws require equal treatment of every religion’s teachings and that certain denominations – the Episcopal Church and the Presbyterian Church (USA),, for example – ordain gay and lesbian ministers.  By the Scouts’ current rules, those very ministers, fit for the pulpit, aren’t deemed fit to lead a troop.
    Isn’t that as much of an insult to their religions as the ban’s end would be to Perkins, Perry and their kind?

    It’s something to think about, isn’t it?  Have a good summer.
    Shalom,
              Kenneth D. Roseman

 
From the Rabbi - May 2013 PDF Print E-mail

Dear Friends:

    For the last several months, I have dedicated on Friday evening sermon each month to a discussion of a prayer that we say or sing all the time, but which we usually do not understand.   I have tried to bring out the historical background of the prayer and then point to some of the spiritual implications it might have in our lives today.  We’ve talked about the Kiddush, the Aleinu, and the Avot veImahot (the one about the patriarchs and matriarchs).  This month, we’re taking a break because we have three wonderful Shabbat evening events, and we want to focus specifically on the young people involved in those ceremonies.  On June 7, however, I’ll continue this series with a discussion of the Gevurot (God’s Mighty Power), which is the prayer right after the Avot veImahot.

    There is an underlying issue that I’d like to raise with you in this note.  The issue is: “What are we really doing when we pray?  What is the exercise of prayer all about, anyway?”

    We ought to agree on at least a first premise: when we pray, we are attempting some kind of communication.  Fine, but then what?  To whom are we communicating and is there any reciprocity?

    I’d like to suggest to you that the communication of prayer can be directed in three different directions, sometimes all at once, sometimes only toward one.

    Classically, of course, we think of prayer as communicating with God.  Some prayers praise or thank God, while others ask for something in return.  In the traditional tefillah (Some call it the amidah because we stand up.), one of the blessings that is said during the week, but not on Shabbat, includes the ending “We praise You, God, Who hears prayer.”  Notice that we say “hears,” but we don’t say “answers.”  In fact, if you think back on serious prayers that you have uttered, sometimes the divine response was positive and sometimes it was negative, and sometimes it was silent.  Judaism asserts that it would chutzpadik to think that, just because we voice a prayer, God has to answer it in the affirmative, as if God were some kind of cosmic light switch that would automatically turn on whenever we wanted something.  Mature religious people understand that God is like our parents who sometimes responded to our requests “Yes” and sometimes “No,” and sometimes “I’ll think about it” or “I’ll talk to Daddy when we have some time to discuss it together.”  It’s important when we pray to have fair and reasonable expectations.

    A second direction for our prayers is toward our neighbors.  When you speak the voice of your heart out loud, you communicate something about yourself to the people around you.  Consider just two examples.  First, the mishebeirach prayer when we speak the names of family and friends about whose welfare we are concerned.  How many times have you been in the sanctuary and heard the name of someone and said to yourself “I didn’t know he (or she) was ill.”  The other worshippers who spoke that name have not only shared a significant piece of information with you about that person, but they have also told you about a worry that weighs heavily on their minds and hearts.  Or, think about the Kaddish list that we read toward the end of services.  We always read the names of people who have died recently for an entire month of Sabbaths in addition to noting the anniversary of deaths, sometimes long past.  It is customary for the mourners to rise as the names are enunciated.  By that silent, prayerful act, they are telling you that they have suffered a loss and that they would be grateful if you would acknowledge their grief and the change that has come into their lives.

Finally, we communicate with ourselves.  Prayer is a way to help ourselves discover resources that are already implanted within ourselves.  A prayer in our typical Shabbat evening service tells us that “…when doubt troubles us, when anxiety makes us tremble and pain clouds the mind, we look inward for the answer to our prayers.  There may we find You, and there find courage, insight and endurance…..”  As the biblical prophet Elijah discovered, God can be the “still, small voice within us,” and we can hear that aspect of our own godliness in our prayers if we listen carefully enough.

    Prayer begins to make more sense when we stop thinking of God as some kind of supersized bellhop who races to attend our every whim whenever we raise our voice.  Mature religion suggests that we become more sophisticated in our understandings and expectations of prayer.  When we do, we are likely to find it far more satisfying.

    Prayerful regards for your spiritual welfare and a blessed summer.

Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi

 
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