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

     The coincidence of Thanksgiving and Hanukkah late in November eliminated one traditional concern Jews have in this last month of the year.  It’s usually called “The December Dilemma,” and it has to do with the relationship of Hanukkah and Christmas.  Jews often phrase their issues in a number of ways.

     For many families, especially interfaith ones, there is the question of which holiday do we celebrate – or both – and how much of each.  It is not uncommon for such families to have made a decision that one religion or the other will be the dominant one, particularly for their children.  To make such a choice is not easy, but it grounds the children in a secure foundation from which they can then understand and appreciate the religions of both parents.  This option also offers the parents a superb opportunity to teach the American value of diversity.  Frequently, such families observe one religious tradition in their own home, but go to relatives or friends to take part in an alternative faith’s practices.

     A second concern that is widely expressed is that the overwhelming impact of the majority’s Christmas makes Jews feel left-out.  This sentiment offers another teachable moment.  Here’s the chance to talk about America as a patchwork quilt of many different groups, each with its own traditions and a very legitimate sense of pride in its own identity.  Jews are not the only minority group in this country who express similar concerns; they are common among virtually all non-Christian populations.  A Jew who is secure in his/her own identity need not feel excluded from American society; a Jew who is insecure has some work to do!

     A third issue is that of anti-Semitism.  It is more salient around Easter time, but Jews also worry that negative feelings can arise in December.  The history of anti-Semitism in America is one of continual decline in its incidence since 1940.  At that time, the Anti-Defamation League reported that 50% of all Americans had negative views of Jews.  Today, the comparable figure is around 18%.  That’s a major improvement, but it still means that there is an enduring streak of negativity in our population.  Fortunately, very few of these negative folks are interested in taking any action against Jews, and our legal system militates against such occurrences.

     In Corpus Christi, we are very fortunate to have a cadre of neighbors who have their own religious identities, but who also want to collaborate with each other and with us to indicate that all of us share a desire to advance our common civic welfare.  You may remember that we sponsored a concert in 2012 with the whirling dervishes from Turkey to make precisely this point.  Now, we are about to offer a second such concert.  Please mark your calendars for Sunday, January 26, 2014 at 5:30 PM at the Performing Arts Center on the TAMUCC campus.  The free concert will focus on our common striving for freedom and will highlight Ruthie Foster, a wonderful singer from Austin who has been called “the next Aretha Franklin.”  By attending, you will help make a statement that we can work side-by-side with our neighbors to make Corpus Christi a much better community.
    Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi
From the Rabbi - November 2013 PDF Print E-mail
Dear Friends:

You may not realize that I am now six months away from retirement.  May 2014 will see me turning 75 years of age, a milestone I never imagined passing, especially since both my parents died in their early sixties.  The impending arrival of this transitional point has caused me to reflect on my life and my career, but I don’t want to become maudlin and soupy.

An interview with Graham Nash that I heard on Sirius XM Radio in my car the other day did, however, cause me to think back to music that I enjoyed decades ago.  You may remember Nash from the folk-rock group, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young.  There’s a song that I recall with considerable fondness.  It’s called “Teach Your Children,” and you can access it on YouTube.  The line that I particularly find appealing says:

    “Teach your children well…and feed them on your dreams.”

All of us are intent on teaching our children (and grandchildren) well.  We spend time with them; we read to them; we help them with their homework; we offer them extra-curricular experiences to enrich their lives.  Our children and grandchildren are indeed fortunate and blessed to have us as conscientious guides and mentors as they grow into adulthood.

And yet, what about dreams?  I wonder how many of us feed the next generations on our dreams.  I’m not talking about dreams of what they might become.  All youngsters know intuitively what their parents and grandparents want for them.  If you ask the young people, they will, of course, say that their elders want them to be happy and healthy and secure, but they also know that we want them to be a particular kind of professional (lawyer, doctor, chief).  Maybe they also realize that we also want them to become the kind of person who will give back to society, who will help change the world for the better, who has a conscience and a soul and who will be part of the solution rather than part of the problem.  They know this already.

I wonder how many of us have shared the dreams we have about ourselves.  This requires a couple of challenging steps.  First, you have to identify your own dreams.  What did you want your life to become, especially when you were younger?  Did you try to make your dream into a reality, or did life’s compromises shelve your dreams in favor of more pragmatic goals? If you followed your dreams, did you succeed, in part or fully, or did you fall short of achievement?  What were your dreams and how did they work out?

I think it is valuable and important to talk with the next generation(s) about your own dreams.  The nourishment they receive when you tell them about your own aspirations, about the real world you confronted and how that affected your fondest hopes, can encourage them to dream for themselves.  It can also develop a much stronger relationship with you as a real person, not as an idealized image, as someone with hopes and dreams, someone who has had successes and failures, but also as someone who has persevered.  

So feed your children on your dreams.  It’s time to share your dreams with them.  That is the way that you can teach them well.                            
Sincerely yours,
    Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi

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

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