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From the Rabbi - November 2012 PDF Print E-mail

Dear Friends:

Fundamentalism scares the daylights out of me.  Let me tell you why.

We need to understand that the attitude of fundamentalism is not just a religious phenomenon.  A secular ideology can share the same characteristics as the most extreme religious system.  The basic attribute of any fundamentalism is that there is only one way to understand reality, one truth, one perspective.  Everything else is wrong.   So, someone who believes that cutting down a tree to provide lumber for the building of a house is a desecration of the environment and that this atrocity should never be committed is very little different from a religious person who believes that there is only one path of worship to the true God.

Fundamentalisms, whether religious or secular, are closed systems.  They admit no alternative views of reality.  Anyone who differs with their conclusions is, ipso facto, in error.  It is not a long stretch from deciding that the other person is wrong to concluding that the other person is sinful and even evil.  “My way or the highway” consigns a large number of thoughtful people who happen to think differently from the fundamentalist to exclusion and ostracism.  This demeans their human dignity and restricts their human rights.  It is only another short step to justifying the forcible removal and even killing of the heretic (anyone who disagrees); after all, if homosexuality is a sin against God, why not do God’s work and slay all the homosexuals?  That’s the logical conclusion when one idea is accorded absolute validity and all others are derogated as wicked and rejected.

Fundamentalisms are essentially antagonistic to democracy.  If any ideas other than your own are wrong and sinful, what is the point of discussing them or considering them or making a compromise with them?  To accept that the other person may have something of value to contribute to the solution of a problem is to do business with the devil, and this the fundamentalist cannot do.  Our basic rights under the Constitution (and especially the Bill of Rights) exist to protect minority points of view,, even unpopular ones.  But a fundamentalist, religious or secular, has no reason to respect those rights when they foster and protect views which he/she thinks are heretically sinful.

Finally, fundamentalisms are dangerous for Jews.  If there is only one truth and all other points of view ought to be eliminated, guess who goes out the door!  We represent a little less than 3% of the American population.  Should our position in this society be dependent on being seen as the one right and honorable path, we lose every time – it’s just a matter of numbers at that point.

The opposite of fundamentalism is pluralism, the idea that there are many different honorable and legitimate paths to the same objectives.  In a democratic society, each of those paths is entitled to some respect and to some role in the discussion; a viable solution often reflects a compromise in which elements of several different ideas are combined in a less-than-perfect agreement to move forward.  America functions best when pragmatism rules, when all the parties who hold differing ideas come together to craft a solution that works, even when it is not ideologically pure or correct. 

I hope every member of CBI will vote in the upcoming election.  When you do, I hope you will keep in mind the issue of fundamentalisms and make your choices for those candidates who will advance rather than impede the solutions to the many problems that plague our society.

     Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi

 
From the Rabbi - October 2012 PDF Print E-mail

Dear Friends:

I have the pleasure and privilege occasionally to meet with Jews who are considering becoming new residents of Corpus Christi.  These conversations are usually a lot of fun, because I get to tell them about our congregation and our city and I get to learn about what concerns they have as they think about moving here.  Parents, of course, are interested in schools and in neighborhoods where other Jewish children live.  But almost invariably the discussion turns to the relationship of the Jewish community to the general population of the city.  If I’ve heard it once, I’ve heard it dozens of times: “Is there any anti-Semitism in Corpus Christi?”

To be honest, I am sure that there are some people in this city who do not like Jews and who do not want to associate with us, either in business or socially.  But if  there are, they have certainly kept their ideas and feelings a secret from me.  I can tell prospective resident that, in the more than ten years that we have lived here, we have never experienced anything that remotely resembled anti-Semitism.

Quite the contrary!  Phyllis and I have been accepted and welcomed in virtually every circle.  We become involved in a number of civic organizations, boards and committees.  I’ve been asked to lead prayers at the Catholic Social Services banquet several times.  My teaching about Judaism and religion, in general, has been enthusiastically supported at TAMUCC.  And, most of all, we are thrilled that we have good friends who are Jewish and just as many who are not.  Our religious affiliation has never made a whit of difference in our integration into the community of Corpus Christi.

I tell you this because I want you to mark something on your calendars.  Two years ago, a small group of clergy met in my office to talk about a commemoration of the tragedy of 9/11.  You may remember that we implemented five interfaith service projects to improve the life of our city, held services at each congregation to focus on what we might learn from those horrific events and then gathered for a common service at the First United Methodist Church.  Nine hundred or so people attended.

We continued our interfaith conversations and planning during the next year with an eye on offering another common program to the general community.  On SUNDAY, OCTOBER 7 AT 5:30 pm AT THE PERFORMING ARTS CENTER ON THE CAMPUS OF TAMUCC, we are hosting a concert to celebrate the rich diversity of religious and ethnic identities in the Corpus Christi area, but also to underline the fact that we are united in building a harmonious and collaborative community.  The theme of this concert will be Peace and Freedom as exemplified by the music of many separate traditions.

Among the performers will be the Corpus Christi Community Choir, our own Kim and Laurie Bryce, the Del Mar Children’s Choir, the choir of the Holy Cross Catholic Church, Mariachi Torero and, as the piece de resistance, a touring group of Islamic,, Turkish, Sufi mystics who are Whirling Dervishes and who are beginning their American visit right here in Corpus Christi.  As an audience, we’ll also have a chance to sing along with the performers on at least two occasions.

You should not want to miss this opportunity to hear some diverse and wonderful  music FOR FREE and at the same time accentuate the fact that interfaith friendship and cooperation are a high priority in our city.  It’s a statement the combined clergy of our community are excited to make: we hope you’ll come out and stand for the same ideals of proud diversity and ardent unity in our city.  I look forward to seeing you on October 7th.

     Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi

 
From the Rabbi - September 2012 PDF Print E-mail
Dear Members of CBI,

It was Wednesday evening, and we were steaming northward aboard the Star Princess between Juneau and Skagway, Alaska.  I was wondering if there were going to be Shabbat services of any sort aboard the boat, so I addressed that question to the people manning the Guest Services counter.  It took a little effort to make the non-English speakers understand what I was asking about, but eventually comprehension broke through.  They looked at the Friday evening schedule and reported that nothing was scheduled.  ”Would it be possible,” I asked, to arrange something?   It doesn’t have to be fancy, but some of us would like to welcome the Sabbath in an appropriate manner.”  They called someone who was not in and left a message with the request.  By the time we got back to our stateroom an hour or so later, there was a message on the phone that services would be held in the ship’s wedding chapel on Friday at 5:00 PM.  “Unfortunately,” the voice announced, “we do not have a rabbi on board, so one of the lay people will have to lead the prayers.”  Little did they know!

By the appointed time, the small room was filled to overflowing – standing room only.  A good number of the attendees were members of a tour group from Jerusalem, but there were also people from Seattle and San Diego and other American cities.  We read and sang the short service to welcome the Shabbat and then made Kiddush with Manishevitz wine and challah that the ship had provided.   The Israelis got into the  mood, singing and dancing and drinking (We even had to get more wine!) until the crew finally ushered us out of the room so that they could decorate for a renewal of wedding vows that was scheduled at 7:00 PM.  It was an unexpectedly glorious Shabbat.

Why do I tell  you this story on the eve of the High Holydays?  It called to mind a passage from Public Ethics, a book by James Sellers.  There, he wrote: “In a democracy there is no prince furnished with an army to maintain the laws by force.  And since the people are established on the basis of parity, there is no pride of rank to exploit.  If there is any will or motivation to see that the laws are obeyed and that justice is done, it must come out of the hearts of the citizenry, from the will and ability of the people to act on behalf of the greater community.  It is this quality, rather than fear or ambition, that makes things work in a democracy.”

All that was needed to make a shabbat evening service possible was for one citizen to step forward and ask.  A simple request and a momentary involvement made the difference.  I put it to you that congregational life is not much different.   As the new year approaches, you might think to yourself – or with others.  What do I want from Congregation Beth Israel?  Do I want something changed at services?   Are there adult education offerings I would enjoy?  Do we need to see a greater CBI presence in the community, more social action involvement?  What is it that would make my congregation, our congregation more satisfying and fulfilling to you?

And now you know what to do.  Simply step forward and ask.  Ask President Jim Gold, ask me, ask anyone on the Board of Trustees.  Just like Shabbat services on the cruise ship, it’s very likely that your request will fall on listening ears and what you dream of will become a reality.  But first you have to ask.

Phyllis and I wish  all of you a most joyous, healthy and fulfilling New Year.

                Shalom,
                Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi

 
From the Rabbi - August 2012 PDF Print E-mail

Dear Members of CBI [written from Marrakesh, Morocco]:

My feet are killing me!  In the last several days, Phyllis and I have walked farther on difficult pavement than we dreamed possible – and in temperatures that often exceeded 110 degrees.  The medina of Fes was a particular challenge - winding warrens of alley-ways so narrow that two adults could hardly pass without brushing shoulders.  On either side of every passageway were stalls – some with “freshly” butchered meat (and even a camel’s head), others redolent with spices, still others overflowing with Chinese-made slippers and toys, plumbing equipment and frequent cafes with men drinking Moroccan sweet mint tea and paying cards or dominos.  There were several miles of these uneven pavements, and, by the time, hours later, we trudged up a long flight of unmatched stone steps, I was ready to bless our guide, Abd el Rahman, for extracting us from the maze.

Today is altogether different.  My feet have still not recovered. But the indignity of this incapacity is easier to bear because we now lodge in the Palmerie Golf Palace in Marrakesh, one of the most luxurious hotels I’ve ever visited.  Comfort cures a variety of indispositions!

One night, we attended Shabbat services at the old Orthodox synagogue in Casablanca.  Had there not been fifteen or twenty Reform rabbis from North America and a couple of Israeli visitors, they probably would not have had a minyan. In 1956 when Morocco gained its independence from France, there were about 350,000 Jews in the country.  Today, they estimate that only 5,000, 2500 in Casablanca and maybe 120-150 in Marrakesh that was formerly the home of tens of thousands.  After services, we were hosted in a Moroccan Jewish home.  They have nine married children, one in the US and eight in Israel.  If you add to the them many thousands who went to metropolitan France, you can have some idea of the present and future demise of this once-thriving Jewish community.  Were it not for regular subsidies from the American Jewish Joint Distribution Committee that provide medical care, housing for the elderly, education for the young and countless other vitally-necessary services, Jewish life in Morocco would be an even-more dire disaster.  (The JDC funds come from your contributions to the Corpus Christi Combined Jewish Appeal, so bear in mind the countless acts of mitzvah that your donations to our annual fund drive make possible.)

 As I sit here in this palatial, air-conditioned hotel, I try to imagine the contrast between Morocco and Corpus Christi.  A prophet of doom might say that both Jewish communities are fated for extinction as older people leave

or die and younger people relocate.  One could certainly look at the comparison that way.  On the other hand, you might think that the Jewish decline of Marrakesh and Fes and Casablanca is irreversible, while there is still hope for Corpus Christi.  That depends, almost entirely, on the growth of Corpus Christi as a whole.  When the tide of economic development rises,  as seems to be the present case, all boats rise, including the ships of the Jewish community.  And every time the nay-sayers of our city are permitted to block a legitimate development project, we take one step closer to a fate similar to the one that awaits the Jews of Morocco.

If you are concerned that our Jewish community not be consigned to “the dust bin of history”(Arnold Toynbee’s less-than-felicitous phrase), then support and elect candidates for public office who are pro-growth, keep the pressure on those who are in positions of authority constantly to be searching for new development opportunities, recruit new Jewish residents yourself (especially if you know people who could fill jobs in our city), be a positive representative of our city and its Jewish community, and, finally, get involved in projects of civic betterment.   A healthy, exciting community attracts new residents; some of them need to be Jews.  And they will be if you make it happen.

Tomorrow, we head back to Casablanca.  We had originally planned a meeting with the American ambassador (a Reform Jew from Minneapolis), but that session had to be cancelled. Then, Monday morning, we depart for home.  We’ll leave the physical place called Morocco behind, but the challenge of figuring out how Corpus Christi can avoid this Jewish community’s fate will remain ever-present in my mind.   To have a stimulus for my own thinking – and, hopefully, for yours – is certainly worth a couple of temporarily sore feet.

                                              Shalom,

                                               Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi

 
From the Rabbi - June & July 2012 PDF Print E-mail

Dear Friends:
 
A few weeks ago I visited a museum exhibit on the campus of Tougaloo College in Jackson, MS.  Tougaloo is a historically Black school founded shortly after the Civil War to give newly-freed slaves access to higher education.  The exhibit was called “Beyond the Swastika and Jim Crow: Refugee European Jewish Scholars at Black Colleges.”

I had known that a number of Jewish scholars had escaped European death during the 1930s and had found research and teaching positions in the U.S.  That some of them ended up at Howard University and Fisk University and Tougaloo was a new insight for me, but at least I had known the general outlines of what had happened.  I also, of course, knew about the sordid history of race relations in the American South during these years, so the exhibit should not have surprised me.

But it did.  Seeing pictures of the KKK marching in their robes and reading letters of rejection because the applicant was Jewish or because he or she was a white person applying to teach at an all-Black school – this shocked and moved me in ways that I certainly did not expect.

Later, I thought about the impact seeing these familiar images had on me.  Maybe it was the setting; seeing them at Tougaloo might have intensified my reaction.  But more than that, I think that my emotional response of shock and dismay caused me to recognize how desensitized we have become to scenes of carnage, oppression, prejudice and destruction.  Perhaps this began over forty years ago when live scenes of Southeast Asian warfare were daily broadcast to the televisions next to our dining tables and into our bedrooms, all in living (or dying?) color.  Remember Platoon and Apocalypse Now?  Today, we hardly react at all.

 -A fourteen year-old boy shot at a fifteen year-old enemy in New Orleans, but the bullet killed a nine year-old girl by accident.  Pass some more coffee.

 -Two people were killed in a motorcycle wreck on SPID last night.  Have you finished with the sports pages yet?

 -Another dead homeless man was found this morning under the Leopard Street overpass.  What time will you be home from work?

 -Eighty more Syrian civilians were massacred and mutilated yesterday by government artillery.  Ho, hum.  What else is new?

The narcoticized syndrome that has developed in the last four decades ought to be called VIET NUMB.  Many, perhaps most of us are incapable of reacting to the horror and repulsive offenses that crowd the daily Metro section of the newspaper and the hourly news on TV.  We have become so numbed by the onslaught of violence that has been our daily diet since the VN war that we remain unstirred by even the most terrible of tragedies.  And unresponsive, we are all-the-more unable to think that there might be something we could do to diminish the disaster, to alleviate the pain or to lessen the chance of recurrence.

Here are a few simple activities that you might consider as steps to resensitize yourself to the human tragedies among which we live – tragedies that ought to shock and appall us, but which leave us largely unmoved.

As you read the Caller-Times tomorrow morning, take a piece of paper and make a mark on it for every crime, every injury, every death.  If there are two or more victims in the same story, make a mark for each person.  When you are done, consider the total and its implications – and how often in the past you’ve read similar reports without reacting.

Take a drive through some of Corpus Christi’s less-desirable neighborhoods.  Look at the houses and at the people.  What did you see that you never saw before?
Spend part of a day volunteering at the Good Samaritan Mission on Alameda Street or at the Corpus Christi Food Bank.  Keep you eyes and ears open.  Talk to some of the staff about the clients and try to grasp the reality of their lives.

If you discover that you’ve become VIET NUMBed – and nearly all of us have – become more self-aware and then find some small way in which your revived sensitivity can be put into action.  You can’t save the entire world, but you can make a difference.
  
   
   Shalom,
   Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi

 
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