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From the Rabbi
From the Rabbi - June 2014 PDF Print E-mail
Dear Friends:
    Unless some extraordinary circumstances intervene, this will be the last Newsletter column I shall write.  Next month’s issue will be headlined by the words of Rabbi Emanuel.
I’ve thought long and hard about what theme I should address with you in these closing remarks, and I have decided that I ought to focus my comments on the topic of SPIRITUALITY.
    The term was hardly ever used in Jewish circles until the 1960s.  Then, it became the buzz-word of the decade.  In a caricature portrait, the spiritual Jew was wrapped in an oversized tallit, adorned by kippah and even tefilliin, rapt in meditative davening and prayer, chanting a niggun (a syllabic melody without words) and swooning to the warm and fuzzy insights of the human potential movement while he or she desperately sought to recapture a lost personal identity.  The extreme manifestation of this style was the “JewBu,” who combined Jewish intellectualism and Buddhist meditation in a creative synthesis.  People who could not adopt the new-age forms of Jewish spirituality were told they were not “spiritual,” which was always meant as a detraction and put-down.
    Pendulums have a striking tendency to swing.  The movement of Jewish spirituality was a swing away from the ultra-rationalism of earlier days.  For Reform Jews whose religious style emerged from the 1920s and 1930s, religion was exclusively from the neck up.  Even during the Aleinu which counsels us to bow the head and bend the knee, the prayer books of the previous ages either made this into a universal and non-physical affirmation or suggested that we simply “bow our heads.”  One did not sway or otherwise use bodily movement in worship.  There was no ritual garb; I have even heard ushers tell men to remove their hats.  And the congregation did not dare sing along with the professional choir who, after all, possessed exceptional voices.  If one even thought to join in with the singing, other congregants would turn and glare until the offender slinked down in silent compliance in the pew.  But this era has ended and, in the 1960s the pendulum swung vigorously in the other direction.
    These were days of experimentation and individual styles of worship.  Small havurot and minyanim sprang up across the country in which small groups of like-minded Jews gathered to express the full and free range of their unique passion.  Intellect was deemed passe; what now counted was the full-bodied emotionalism with which they approached their religious involvements.  Yet this pendulum swing also contained its own self-correction, and that’s where we are today.
    I think we have now come to three healthy realizations.  The first is that intellect and emotion need to find a balance in our religious expression.  No Jew would ever seriously counsel abandoning our traditional quest for a highly-developed life of the mind.  We have made our mark in the world – and always will – based on our creativity and inventiveness, on our ability to compete in arenas of human endeavor that depend on mental acuity.  And yet to neglect the ninety-plus percent of ourselves that lies from the neck down now strikes us as unfairly dismissive of gifts that God has given us.  We need to find new ways to take full advantage of both body and mind if we are express our Jewish selves in the most complete manner.  The second insight our new situation demands of us it that each individual will need to craft his or her own balance.  We have swung beyond that point where one synthesis fits all; each of us is entitled to figure out a Jewish style that fits personally.  And finally, we ought to recognize that spirituality is not linked alone to worship.  To be sure, there can be exalted moments of heightened spirituality in the sanctuary, whether the sanctuary of the synagogue or the sanctuary of nature.  But some people may find an equally valid and compelling spirituality in tikkun olam as they reach out to help repair the brokenness of our society.  Some may find it in concentrated study.  And some of us may approach the ideal of a spiritual life rooted in the ultimate Jewish ideal, as expressed in Pirke Avot 1:2:  
    Simon the Righteous…[said]: The world stands on three things: study of the Torah, worship and doing loving acts of kindness.
    May you be favored with a spiritual life that embodies all of these virtues and may God bless each and every one of you.
Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi

From the Rabbi - May 2014 PDF Print E-mail

Dear Friends:

    Let’s talk about Torah.  We all know that the text of the Torah contains 613 mitzvot, some positive (248) and the rest negative (365).  About half of these laws relate to the priesthood and the ancient Temple in Jerusalem.  When the Temple was destroyed in 70 C.E. by the Romans, it became impossible to implement these laws.  There is a group in Jerusalem today called “The Temple Faithful” who anticipate that the Temple will be restored in the time of the messiah and that all those ancient practices will be reinstated.  Liberal Jews have a different point of view.  We deliberately call our houses of worship “temple” because we do not look backward toward that biblical shrine.  Instead, we believe that a temple can be wherever Jews congregate for prayer and study and fellowship.

    But the Torah contains more than laws.  It includes historical narratives, ethics and morality, geography and underlying all of this, a religious philosophy and theology.  It’s a rich repository of the most basic ideas and practices that have guided our people for nearly three thousand years.  But much more than what it says, the Torah elicits emotional responses from us, and it is those feelings that I want to share with you.

    The first set of feelings is about linkages.  When I look at or touch or read or study the Torah, I am acutely aware that Jews all over the world are doing exactly the same thing with the same words at the same time.  Whether one is a Jew in Japan or South Africa or Russia or Brazil or Corpus Christi, on any particular Shabbat morning, the parasha is the same everywhere.  Unrolled, the Torah is like a long belt, encircling the Jewish globe and connecting every Jew with every other Jew.  It does not matter if one is Reform or Orthodox or Conservative – we’re all on the same page.  And that sense of Jewish unity and togetherness is a rather remarkable phenomenon.  Beyond that, however, the Torah as we have it today is at least 2500 years old.  That means that it also links us with Jews who opened it in different eras of history and in the different places of our past.  When I stand in the presence of the scroll, I can be with Rabbi Yehuda Nasi as he and his colleagues wrote the Mishnah in the Galilee in about 200 C.E.  I can be with Moses Maimonides as he and his family fled Moslem Spain in the twelfth century and resettled in North Africa.  I can be with Moses Mendelssohn in Berlin as he decided to translate the Bible into German so his fellow-Jews could better understand the words.  And I can even imagine myself with the inmates of Auschwitz and Dachau as they gathered on Rosh HaShanah and, even though they did not have a physical scroll, recalled and recited as best they could the sacred words of Torah.  I can do all this because the Torah spans the contemporary world’s geography, even as it connects us with Jews of every historical time and place.

    Beyond these connections, however, is a mystical linkage that emanates from the Torah that is displayed in the niche on the south wall of our Sanctuary.  It came from a little town, Domaslice, just inside the Czech border from Germany.  In 1939 or 1940, all the Jews of this town were deported and eventually murdered.  Their religious items, including this Torah, were taken to a warehouse near Prague and catalogued.  No one knows why the Germans were averse to destroying the 1564 Torahs saved in this building.  Perhaps they were superstitious about ravaging a holy item – although they were not so reluctant to massacre holy human beings.  When the Torah came to Corpus Christi at the end of January 1984, I am convinced that wrapped into the scroll were the souls of the martyrs of its original home.  I cannot look at that Torah without thinking of those Jews, Jews who did not have the opportunity to complete their lives.  And so it seems to me that the Torah challenges us to live our Jewish lives in such a way as also to complete their lives.   In a sense, we live for two – for ourselves and each of us for one of them.  To me, this is a highly-charged emotional mandate.  I dare to hope that you might see the same.
                    Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi

From the Rabbi - April 2014 PDF Print E-mail
Dear Friends:

You may recall that Charles Dickens began A Tale of Two Cities with these immortal words: “It was the best of times.  It was the worst of times.”  He was, of course, referring to the days immediately preceding the French Revolution, but his words could just as aptly relate to the months of Adar and Nisan in the Jewish calendar.

We begin this period in the Jewish year with Torah readings that center on our slavery in Egypt.  It was the worst of times.  But then come the best of times, as we gather to celebrate our liberation and our journey to Sinai.  We become “a kingdom of priests and a holy people” as we imbibe the intoxicating spirit of freedom.  And yet, within only a few days, our lives turn dark again, as we read of the idolatry of the Golden Calf in the Torah and relive the calamity of the modern-day Shoah and the destruction of over one-third of our people.  Could there be any worse times?  Yet, less than ten days after we have gathered to remember the victims of the Shoah and to think about human cruelty we also rejoice on Yom Ha-Atzmaut, the anniversary of the founding of the modern state of Israel.  Back to the best of times.

Perhaps it is our Jewish fate to fluctuate between these two poles, between exaltation and despair.  Our history imposes on us this bi-polar perspective.  For a long time, it was a common attitude to think of the extended Jewish Middle Ages (really from the destruction of the Temple in 70 CE until the emancipation of European Jewry after the French Revolution and even until the founding of the State of Israel) as a period of unrelieved sadness and oppression.  The great Jewish historian, Salo Baron, decried the “lachrymose conception of Jewish history,” thinking of the past as an unmitigated tragic narrative.  Modern scholarship has demonstrated that there has actually been an alternation between periods of success and security and periods of pogrom and persecution.

We Jews count ourselves as fortunate to live in this blessed land of the United States.  Any fair and objective assessment of our situation must lead to the conclusion that Jews have never before lived in similar conditions of freedom, acceptance and security.  For all the complaints we have about our society and our nation, America has been good for us.  Here, it is the best of times.

Are the worst of times in the future?  In the past, when bad things have happened to Jews, the impetus has almost always come from the outside society; others made our lives miserable.  Now, however, it seems that the future is in our own hands.  If we choose, we can sustain this “golden age.”  But if we are uninvolved, apathetic, ignorant and contemptuous of our heritage, we can bring down upon ourselves the worst of times.   For the first time in Jewish history, the choice is really up to us.

    Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi

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

I know that a good number of young people have peanut allergies, but I had no idea that so many of our members are lactose intolerant.  But I have had to conclude that this must be the case, since a vast number of you have avoided the cow who stands in our lobby.

You may remember that last year’s confirmation class created HOLY COW! as a way to collect money for the dairy needs of the Good Samaritan Rescue Mission on Alameda Street.  We have “milked” her twice, and we have proudly been able to transmit nearly $900.00 to the GSRM.  The gift that the confirmands gave to CBI was not only a gift that keeps on giving in the form of tzedakah, but also a gift that reminds all of us of a very important Jewish value.

One member of the congregation urged that we remove HOLY COW! because she thought it was ugly.  I disagree.  Hunger is ugly.  Homelessness is ugly.  Desperation and hopelessness are ugly.  Many of us are the grandchildren or great-grandchildren of impoverished immigrants who, in their own day, struggled incredibly hard just to survive.  Their poverty and distress were ugly, but fortunately they found ways to extricate themselves from the slums of urban ghettos and make a good life for their descendants.  In this process, they had devoted help from those who had come before them and who could now reach out the hand of rescue and relief.

Jews have always been noted for their philanthropic generosity.  We have helped our own brothers and sisters in need, and we have then extended our hands to others.  If we enjoy the life-style that others helped make possible for our families and for us, then it would seem selfish in the extreme not to offer the same assistance to others who are now in need.  If tzedakah once helped our families, then it is incumbent upon us to pay it forward by doing the same for the next generation of those less-fortunate than ourselves.  (By the way, Carole Murphree, Executive Director of GSRM, tells me that two-thirds of the residents there have full-time jobs, but they cannot afford to rent an apartment because of the scarcity of low-income housing in our city.)

So, next time you are in our lobby, fish out a little change and feed HOLY COW!   Get rid of your lactose intolerance and do a mitzvah to help our needful fellow citizens.  I am quite sure you’ll be mooo-ved by this simple act.

Sincerely yours,
Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi

From the Rabbi - February 2014 PDF Print E-mail
Dear Friends:

    Sunday, February 12, is a very special day.  It was precisely fifty years ago this day that a shipment of Torahs arrived in London from a warehouse in Prague, Czechoslovakia.  The 1,564 Torah scrolls had been confiscated by the Nazis when they invaded that country in March of 1939.  The scrolls and many thousands of other ritual objects had been collected in a storage facility near Prague, meticulously catalogued and tagged and kept for some unspecified future use.  Some scholars believe that the Nazis, after they had won the war, were planning to establish museums to testify to the vile and inhuman nature of the Jews; these displays would somehow justify their murderous campaign of extermination.  Others think that the Nazis were superstitious about destroying holy objects and so stored them away to avoid bringing a curse down upon themselves.

    After the war when the Nazi menace had been eliminated, the question arose: What does one do with all these objects?  They could not be returned to their home communities, because there would be no Jews there to use them.  In a sense, they were orphaned objects, since their families had been murdered.  Eventually, the Memorial Scrolls Trust was established in London, and negotiations begun with the new Communist government of Czechoslovakia.  Finally, in 1963, an agreement was reached to ransom the entire collection of Torahs and to ship them to England.  They arrived on February 12, 1964.

    A Torah scribe was engaged to examine each scroll.  Only a few were in such shape as to be usable; some were no longer kosher because of deterioration; and some were virtually falling apart because of the bad conditions under which they had been stored.  In some scrolls, the scribe found poignant small notes from Jews who had figured out what their fate was to be and who wanted to leave a last message for some future reader.   The MST began a program of lending most of the scrolls to congregations around the world which were willing to adopt them (as you might with any orphan) and care for them.

    The Torah scroll that we proudly and reverently display in our sanctuary is #953.  It came from the tiny town of Taus-Domazlice in the far southwest corner of what is now the Czech Republic.

  Torah  To commemorate the arrival of the scrolls in England, every congregation that has adopted one of these scrolls has prepared a poster.  Our 4-6 graders decorated our poster, which you can see elsewhere in this Newsletter.   The poster itself is on the way to England, where it will be displayed along with all the others.

    A personal word – You probably know that I tend toward the rationalistic pole of the intellectual spectrum; no one who knows me is likely to call me a mystic.  Yet, when I am around the Domazlice scroll, unaccustomed thoughts occur to me.  I am convinced that the souls of the martyred Jews of Domazlice have all migrated to Corpus Christi with their Torah scroll.  Each of us has the opportunity (perhaps the mandate) to complete the life of one of these persons, to finish the life that he or she was never permitted to fulfill.  Each of us lives a Jewish life for ourself, but also for our alter ego, for a Jew from Domazlice who depends on us for the fulfillment of a personal destiny.  Knowing that you live for two people can give your life deeper meaning and motivate you to even greater achievements.  So, pick your other person.  Will you be a teacher, a housewife, a shopkeeper, a shoemaker, a candlestick maker, even a small child?  Whoever you are, make sure that your Jewish life is worthy of that martyr’s memory.
                                                    Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi
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