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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 

 
From the Rabbi - February 2012 PDF Print E-mail
 Dear Friends:

In mid-January, we took a group of CBI teens to see Fiddler on the Roof at the Selena Auditorium.  Of course, the star of the production was Tevya, and he displayed his characteristic conversations with himself and with God.  Part of his inimitable style was to consider alternative ways of approaching any problem: “On the one hand,” he would say, “but then again on the other hand.”

Tevya was caught up in a world that was changing in radical ways.  On the one hand, he was deeply connected to traditions that he had grown up with and that he desperately wanted to pass on to the next generation.  But on the other hand, he also recognized, however reluctantly, that new values and new practices were encroaching on the life he had always known.
    
Sholom Aleichem’s conflicted hero lived in a Russian-Polish shtetl over a century ago.  Yet his approach to life is as modern as 2012.  We understand that most serious issues have at least two sides, and we devote great amounts of energy and time to contrasting these various perspectives before we make a decision.
    
That is how we act, but it is not a universally-accepted procedure in the Jewish world of today.  Among the ultra-Orthodox, both in Israel and throughout the Diaspora, there are Haredim who contend that there is and can be only one answer to any question.  Their understanding of Torah represents the only possible, only correct approach to any issue; nothing else can be envisioned, and everything else is “treif.”  Their way of dealing with problems is authentic for them and legitimate within their worldview, but it is as foreign to us as the now-nonexistent shtetl of Anatevka.

More than forty years ago, I heard Elie Wiesel talk about the concept of Ahavat Yisrael, the love of Israel.  Aside from the feelings of loyalty and affection that nearly all Jews have for the modern State of Israel, he suggested that this phrase encompasses two very different types of Jews.    (As I recall, he was talking to rabbinical students about the Vietnam war and their choice either to oppose the war by refusing to serve as military chaplains or to swallow their opposition and serve because the men and women drafted into the military had no choice and needed them.)

There are Jews, he said, who love the tradition of Israel.  For them Jewish laws, ideology, theology and ritual practice are the ultimate criteria for any decision.  There are Jews, Wiesel taught, who accord priority to the “-isms” of being Jewish and who expect Jewish people to conform and submit to them.
    
On the other hand, Wiesel suggested that Ahavat Yisrael meant love for the people, for Jews as a group and as individuals.  When the needs of this Israel come into conflict with the strictures of the “-ismatic” Israel, Jews who understand the mandate in this manner put the needs of real people ahead of the theories and Jewish ideology.  In fact, Wiesel said, people are the essence of any authentic Jewish ideology.
    
I have chosen to be a liberal Jew because I am committed to this latter understanding of Ahavat Yisrael.  Traditions are certainly important to me, but people and their needs come first.  I know myself, and I am definitely closer to one end of the continuum of Jewish practice and values than to the other.   Each of us can find a place on this spectrum.  Where to locate yourself is a challenge that offers you the opportunity to think about yourself, to learn and know about yourself as a human being and as a Jew.
                Shalom,
    Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi

 
From the Rabbi - January 2012 PDF Print E-mail
Dear Friends:
 
Ron Bernstein was born in New York City, but he moved to Israel more than thirty years ago to become one of the early settlers of Kibbutz Yahel.  Yahel lies about sixty miles south of the Dead Sea, right on the Jordanian border.  Soon, Ron became proficient in the cultivation of citrus fruit and dates, plus he learned how to manage the sizeable dairy herd that now produces more milk per cow than any other herd in the country. Along the way, he and his wife have raised three children, including an adopted oriental girl.

Right now, Ron has moved to Austin, Texas for a couple of years to represent the Jewish National Fund.  JNF was established over a hundred years ago to help develop the land of Israel.  If you have ever bought a tree or had one dedicated in our honor, the tree was planted by JNF.  Vast swaths of the Judean landscape have been forested by JNF, providing cleaner air for the country, minimizing soil erosion, offering Israelis and others healthy and enjoyable places to hike and picnic and beautifying the countryside.  In addition, JNF has invested in the building of schools, hospitals, public utilities and all sorts of other projects.  Much of the modern State of Israel exists in its present form because of JNF.
 
Ron will be our guest speaker on Friday evening at services, January 20, 2012.  I hope you will join us to learn more about a part of modern Jewish life that is especially important to all of us today.  This is one of the most constructive and positive features of Israel, something with which all of us need to be familiar.
 
During the Spring, our Combined Jewish Appeal will be offering you the opportunity to do the mitzvah of supporting Israel as well as all sorts of Jewish services in Corpus Christi.  The kick-off dinner will be held on February 2 at the Corpus Christi Country Club, at which time Elliot Chodoff will speak. Please consider attending the dinner and then making your annual pledge to the CJA; it's really the best way to ensure the Jewish future around the world.
 
Shalom,
Kenneth D. Roseman

 
From the Rabbi - December 2011 PDF Print E-mail
Dear Friends:

The period between mid-November and the end of December is a time when we traditionally assess our lives.  We are particularly conscious of the physical blessings that we have been given, our health, our shelter, our nourishment and, especially, our families.  To be sure, each of us has areas of concern, needs that are not fulfilled and problems that have yet to be resolved.  Our lives are hardy perfect.  Yet, compared to the lot of many other people, even people in Corpus Christi, we do have a lot with which to be satisfied.  As we add up our achievements and our acquisitions at the end of the year, the word “Thanks” easily comes to our lips.  In Pirke Avot, an ancient rabbi, Ben Zoma, asked “Who is rich?”  His response to his own question was that a rich person is “content with what he already has.”  There’s a great deal to make us content.

But the prophets of biblical Israel (and their successors through the ages) have stressed that we ought not to look at the world as it is, but as it ought to be.  It’s hard not to be aware of the imperfections of our society.  In areas of our city, there is a high propensity for violence, drug use, gang activities.  I spoke at King High School the other evening, and the principal told me that of roughly 800 students who enter as freshmen, only about 550-575 graduate.  Some, of course, move out of the city and some go to other schools, but the majority of this nearly 30% loss end up with marginal literacy and minimal employable skills.  How sad!  And then there are the bigger, world-wide issues of which we are all aware: disease, poverty, malnutrition, war, prejudice, disasters of every sort.

As satisfied as we may be with our lot in life, we cannot be smugly complacent in the face of the indignities with which fellow human beings are confronted every day.  So this period of reassessment and gratitude ought also prompt us to think about ways in which we can improve the world in which we live.  There are so many things – large and small – that each individual can undertake.  All it requires is a little determination and motivation.  It would be very nice if our good fortune would prompt each of us to find something to do that would move our world away from what is and toward what ought to be.

            Shalom,
            Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi

 
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