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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

 
From the Rabbi - May 2012 PDF Print E-mail

Dear Friends:

I’d like to share a few thoughts about MAY with you.  As a month, May got its name from one of two sources.  The Roman poet, Ovid, suggested that May comes from the Latin word “maiores,” which means “elders.”  We derive our English concept of “major” from the same root.  This literary lion was drawn to this etymology because May is followed by June, which he said originated from “iuniores” or “juniors.”  Maybe….maybe not.  But who am I to argue with Ovid?

On the other hand, others in the ancient world believed that the source of May was the Roman goddess of fertility, Maia.  Her festival was observed in the Spring, as the earth was experiencing rebirth, in the same way that Passover is a rebirth festival of both nature and the Israelite people; from arid to fruitful, from slavery to freedom and independence.  So it is altogether possible and logical to derive May from the name of this good deity.

Suppose, however, we think of the word not as a noun, but as a verb.  Contrast the word “may” with “must” or its opposite, “must not.”  When you think of “may” in this way, it becomes pregnant with possibilities.  (Are we back to the goddess of fertility, Maia?)

As such, May may be the best month of the year for liberal Jews.  Liberal Judaism generally avoids what is mandatory, preferring instead to place before its adherents a range of optional choices of ritual and religious behaviors.    In doing so, it affirms the potential of individuals to make good choices; it trusts you and me to confront all possibilities and to pick judiciously and carefully from among the options before us.  It tells us that we are not required to keep kosher, but neither are we bidden to eat tref.  Rather, liberal Judaism poses the question to us: How can you arrange your diet so that it may enhance not only your physical health but also your spiritual welfare?  Liberal Judaism affirms that no one will stand over you with a gun to demand you make a charitable contribution, but it does propose that you can be sufficiently forthcoming with your funds that your generosity may make the lives of others and the character of the community better.

Most of all, liberal Judaism proposes that there is a mutual covenant between God and each individual Jew, and that this God is not a God who commands or demands or mandates, but who trusts us as partners to strive as best we humans can to choose the right thing.  Saying this, liberal Judaism affirms the considerable value of each human being as one worthy of being in partnership with the Eternal.

So what should we say at the beginning of May?  Perhaps we ought to think of the first mitzvah of the Torah (Genesis 1:28) “Be fruitful and multiply.”  May all your decisions be fruitful and may all your choices multiply in satisfaction and fulfillment.
     

Kenneth D. Roseman

 
From the Rabbi - April 2012 PDF Print E-mail

Dear Friends:
 
I recently read an interesting passage in a book entitled Jews in the Early Modern World.  I share it with you in its entirety here.

“According to the Statutes of the Scola dei Tedeschi [German synagogue] in Rome from 1541,…by which the parnassim gave the rabbi full authority to make takkanot (ordinances), the members of the community were obligated as follows:  all members had to pray in the evening, morning and afternoon in the synagogue (They could do so in other places only with special permission.); absence for three consecutive days resulted in a monetary fine; a fee was involved for quitting the synagogue; and no business could be transacted before the shacharit (morning) prayers.  The statutes also indicated that all members must pay assessed synagogue taxes and pay all donations immediately; all needs of the synagogue were to be determined by majority vote; two parnassim and three counselors were to be appointed, who must take an oath of office; and no one was to speak during prayers without permission from the parnassim.  Disputes between members had to be brought before the congregation; no member was to strike another or speak badly of him; reconciliation at the Torah must be accepted; and, in the same spirit of community, all members were to share the expenses of the communal lulav and etrog used during the holiday of Sukkot.

In the last 471 years, a great deal has obviously changed.  And yet the basic question remains: What does a member owe to his or her synagogue?  What expectations ought a congregation have of those who say that they are part of it?

The By-laws of most congregations, including ours,  are conspicuously silent on this matter, except to indicate that every member must assume a fair proportion of the cost of the congregation and stay current in those financial obligations.  The virtually mandatory provisions applicable to the Jews in the ghetto of Rome five centuries ago clearly do not reflect our times, although our endowment funds would be overflowing if we fined everyone for habitual absence.  But, at the same time, is there more than a financial contribution that a modern synagogue ought to expect from its members?  We certainly cannot (and do not) expect anyone to attend worship services morning, noon and night, but is it unreasonable to think that everyone might come “once in a while,” perhaps once a month?   It might seem excessive, but another modest expectation is that each member would try to grow in Jewish knowledge on a regular basis.  There are so many Jewish books, on the best seller lists in every category, that it cannot be an oppressive thought that each of us would find time to read something of Jewish enrichment from time to time.  And then there is the matter of mitzvah.  I have a suspicion that almost every member of CBI does a social mitzvah on a daily basis.  We have a good record of helping others, of reaching out to those in need, to supporting the fallen and caring for the sick and depressed and desperate.  If you have done your mitzvah for today, you might remember that there are still 612 more in the Torah; there’s much more work to be done.  I think a Jewish congregation might reasonably hope that its members would try to add one additional mitzvah every so often to those that they already perform.

The Board of CBI tries to manage the congregation’s affairs with wisdom and transparency.  We try to be financially responsible and prudent.  But there is one thing we cannot do for you, and that is to appear at a congregational meeting and vote.  No one can do this except each individual member.  We have such a meeting on April 1 at 7:00 PM to consider an important change in our by-laws.  It is described elsewhere in this newsletter.  We’ve tried to make this brief meeting appealing and enjoyable by pairing it with the appearance of Rabbi Bob Alper and his stand-up comedy routine, but you’ve got to come.  This is an obligation that you have to the synagogue and, most especially, to the other members who are counting on you to make a legal quorum.  Do not think that others will fulfill your obligation for you; this one is strictly up to you.
    
    Sincerely yours,
    Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi
 

 
From the Rabbi - March 2012 PDF Print E-mail

Dear Friends:

March seems to be a time when non-Jewish groups want to visit our synagogue.  In the next month, I’ll speak with the eighth graders from St. James School and a confirmation class from the First United Methodist Church in Portland.  In addition, I’ll spend an evening with a teenage group at All Saints Episcopal Church exploring the Passover seder and its relationship to the Last Supper.  All of these groups prepare for at least an hour, watching the video created some years ago by our Sisterhood; it’s called “Your Visit to the Temple” and covers a number of basic points so I don’t have to repeat them, but can enter into conversation with the young people rather directly.

I often wonder why these groups are so intent on coming to see our synagogue and our services and why they are so interested in Judaism.  Surely, it is not because they want to become Jewish.  On occasion, I think it’s just a field trip to fill up a hole in the curriculum, but usually it’s more.

For one thing, there is a huge difference between the curiosity about one’s neighbors if one is a minority group member or a part of the majority culture.  As Jews we need to understand what the other people in our community are thinking, what they believe, how they worship, what values are salient in their thought.  The civilization of America is filled with people who are often very different from us, and, if we want to get along with them in harmony, we need to have a pretty good idea about who they are.  On the other hand, members of the majority culture have much less motivation to understand us; they can be more self-sufficient and get along in their own world without paying attention to our small group, if they wish.

The fact that a number of them do wish to know what we are about is a remarkable and wonderful American phenomenon.  There are Christians of immense goodwill who are committed to the concept of cultural pluralism, who want their students to understand and respect difference in American life.  Curiosity about people who live in ways that deviate from the majority culture does not always produce a positive outlook or respect, but I know the teachers of many of these youngsters, and I know the follow-up they have in their class discussions.  They make sure that the point of their visit is never missed.

There is, of course, a second reason to learn about Judaism.  Christianity, after all, grew from a Jewish root, and Jesus was a Jew from his birth to his death.  Only later did a separate religion emerge.  If a Christian is going to understand his or her own faith, the substratum of Jewish beliefs and practices constitutes an essential part of the knowledge base.   Consider just this one (among many) example.  Just down Saratoga Blvd. is a large Catholic Church named “Most Precious Blood.”  It is virtually impossible to understand how this Church got its name unless one realizes that the blood spilled during Jesus’ sacrificial crucifixion is to be seen as the successor to the Torah’s use of blood for atonement in the animal sacrificial cult of earlier biblical times.  To know Jewish parallels and precedents makes Christianity more meaningful to its adherents.

Finally, I think there are some very special elements in what we do that Christians can never have.  Biblical Judaism dates at least back to the Exodus from Egypt, roughly 1250 B.C.E.  Catholic Christianity traces itself back to the first Christian century, so there are nearly fifteen hundred years of history and development that we have that preceded the emergence of the daughter faith.  When we read from the Torah, we are doing something that Jews have been doing for roughly 2500 years, long before any alternative faith was fashioned.  The same is true of many of our practices, even though they take a modern form in today’s synagogue and Jewish home.   This sense of rootedness is remarkable and special – and unique to Jewish life.  Protestant Christianity goes back to Martin Luther, less than six hundred years ago, so its sense of historical connection is even more attenuated.  We represent something that is grounded long ago in biblical history, and that gives our faith a tremendous sense of meaning and value.

I hope you will think about some of the reasons why our Christian neighbors devote a good bit of time trying to understand who we are.  Their interest should remind you of virtues in Judaism of which you should be rightly proud.  Their visits should kindle within you a spirit of Jewish value and a desire to know even more and to be more involved in this age-old but ever-new enterprise we call Judaism.
     

 Sincerely yours,   
 Kenneth D. Roseman 

 
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