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From the Rabbi - August 2011 PDF Print E-mail
Dear Friends,

By now, you have received a folder in the mail describing Corpus Christi’s Religious Remembrance of the awful and tragic events of September 11, 2001.  Eight congregations have combined their commemorative efforts in a very special way, and I hope each of you will find it possible to participate.

We decided early in our interfaith discussion that just having a service or services, even with lots of appropriate words, would not be adequate.  I recalled the rabbinic adage that holds that “study and discussion are not the important things, but action.”  My colleagues all had the same idea.  We believe that we can best honor the sacrifices of the men and women who were killed ten years ago and their survivors who today live with the pain of loss by helping create a better community in which to live.  We believe that the most appropriate response to the cowardly and dastardly actions of terrorists is to assert as strongly as possible and with as many people of as many different faiths as possible that human beings can make a real difference in how we forge a righteous and equitable society.

To this end, we are asking our members to sign up for one of a list of social action projects in Corpus Christi.  They are described on the inside of the mailed-out folder.  If you don’t have it anymore, we’ll be glad to send you another copy.  What we want you to do in response is to call us and put your name on the list for one of the projects, then show up and make a strong statement about what Judaism and religion, in general, demands that we do.

The biblical prophet, Isaiah, told his listeners that the day that would be acceptable to God involved removing the fetters of wickedness, undoing oppression, promoting freedom, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked – in short, what God wants from us is tikkun olam, repairing this broken and imperfect world.

Of course, we shall also speak words of prayer and solace.  Our service on Friday, September 9, will be connected thematically with the destruction that occurred ten years ago.  And then, at 6:00 PM on Sunday, September 11, members of all the congregations will gather at the First United Methodist Church for an interfaith commemorative event.

I look forward to working with you in some of the projects and to seeing you at the services on the 9th and the 11th.
            Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi

From the Rabbi - June/July 2011 PDF Print E-mail
Dear Friends:

As I write these words, President Obama and Prime Minister Netanyahu are sitting the White House, discussing their significant differences.  I listened with care to what our President said about Middle East peace yesterday (Thursday, May 19) and then read both the transcript of his speech and various commentaries about it.  As you know, he certainly stirred up a hornet’s nest of controversy with his suggestion that the only borders that could serve to define Israel and a new Palestinian state are the 1967 borders.

    It is entirely possible that a return to the 1967 borders could serve as a framework for peace between Israel and its neighbors.  Certainly, it is what the Palestinians have been saying for decades, at least in their public pronouncements.  (What they say privately may be altogether different.)  I want to give you my analysis, including the reasons why I am enormously skeptical about our President’s proposal.

I am not, it should be noted at the outset, opposed either to the creation of a Palestinian state (It’s coming, whether we like it or not.) or to the assignment of some of the land captured in 1967 to such a new state.  The land cannot, I suggest, be “returned,” since it never belonged to a Palestinian state before 1967; it was part of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan, and no one is proposing that we return the land to Jordan.

The 1967 borders were not constructed on a rational basis, but because they happened to be the cease-fire line between the Arab armies and the Israel Defense Forces after the War of Independence in 1948-1949.  They were not justified then on the grounds of defensibility, nor are they today.  To go back to them just because that’s where the troops stopped fighting does nothing to enhance Israel’s ability to defend itself against further attacks.  The first criterion of any new geographical arrangement needs to be Israel’s military security, and the 1967 borders make no sense in that regard.

In the thirty-five years since 1967, hundreds of thousands of Israelis, mostly Jews, have settled in areas that are outside the 1967 lines.  Some of them did this illegally, and I have no brief for their rights; they can be removed at any point and probably ought to be.  They are a significant impediment to peace.

But there are many more who were settled in the territories with the permission and encouragement of the State of Israel.  Among the areas under question is a large tract just east of Jerusalem called Ma’alei Adumim which forms both a major bedroom suburb for the capitol city and a defensive bastion, high on a hill overlooking the Jordan valley.  The rights of people like these must be taken into account, and it would be foolhardy for Israel to expect them to relocate.  Unless the Palestinians are prepared to negotiate modifications of the 1967 lines to accommodate these residents, the proposal of President Obama is a dead letter.

Speaking of negotiations, one might wonder if the new alliance of the Palestinian government of the West Bank and the Hamas government of Gaza bodes well.  Hamas has been intransigent in its insistence that it would never recognize the legitimacy of the State of Israel.  Israel is 100% right to refuse to sit down with anyone who states so categorically that it will not recognize one partner in the discussion.

Further, every time the Palestinians have seemed ready to make a deal with Israel, they have changed the rules of the game, added new conditions or otherwise made it impossible for the negotiations to reach a positive conclusion.  It is hard to know why they ought to be trusted as legitimate partners in any serious discussions; nothing of which I am aware has changed.

Finally, one might be entitled to suspect that the so-called Palestinian state is not the real goal.  Hamas has made it clear that their ultimate ambition is to complete eradication of any Jewish state and either the expulsion or destruction of the Jewish population presently in the area.  Until that ambition is retracted and denied, there is no reason to negotiate with Hamas or any of its partners.

    As much as I respect our President and assume that, at least in his view, he has the best interests of the Middle East and world peace at heart, in this instance I think he is naïve and wrong.  This is, as we are wont to say in this region of the country, a dog that will not hunt.  I am going to stand by Israel and its security until such time as a credible proposal that respects the integrity of the Jewish state is laid on the table.  I hope you will take the same position.  
                            Kenneth D. Roseman

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

It seems incredible to me that I graduated from college fifty years ago.  Walking across the open-air stage in Oberlin’s Tappan Square was only yesterday, or so it would appear through the hazes of memory.  Obviously, a lot has happened to me since 1961, and I am grateful for almost everything that has transpired in my life, even for the real downers – and there have been some.
     To help me remember what actually happened in that significant year in my life, I went back to see what milestones occurred.  Some notable people died that year: Dashiell Hammett and George S. Kaufman, Psychiatrist Carl Jung and Judge Learned Hand, Gary Cooper and Ty Cobb.  “West Side Story” and “Judgment at Nuremberg” appeared as films and we sang “Love Makes the World Go Round,” “Moon River” and “Where the Boys Are” as we danced at sock hops.  Those memorable events, however, pale by comparison to the things that are really worth remembering.

     In 1961, JFK was inaugurated as America’s 35th president; the Berlin Wall was erected, while the UN condemned apartheid.  Adolf Eichmann was found guilty in Jerusalem.  The Freedom Riders suffered brutal assaults in the South, but persisted.  If I’m going to look back, it’s not important to me to remember that a rough-and-tumble, rather coarse Georgian ball player died that year, but that there were a few events that spoke directly to the values that my generation and I considered important.  The five events that I listed at the beginning of this paragraph speak to themes that set the course of my life from that time until today: freedom, equality, accountability and, more than anything else, hope.
     I wish I could say that the world has been transformed in the last fifty years.  In some ways, it really has.  South Africa shucked off the apartheid system for a relatively democratic government; the Berlin Wall is gone; segregation and Jim Crow are long gone.  The last of the Nazis is soon to die off, but we cannot and dare not forget the brutality and savagery with which they murdered our people.    It is one thing to deal openly with modern Germany; it is quite another to forget the past – and that is something I hope we shall never do.  There are too many hate groups in contemporary American society for us not to remember how Brown Shirts became SS troopers and how SS troopers became mass killers.  Could it happen again?  Probably not, at least not in the same way, especially not if we remember the past with vigilance.
     Hope was in the air in 1961.  We looked forward to a far better future way back then.  Within a few years, that hope seemed muted and then it evaporated, sinking into the swamps of Viet Nam, Cambodia and Laos.  The hope surfaced again in 2008, but it’s hard to find an optimist today.
     I remain unabashedly hopeful and optimistic.  I do not apologize for this.  In my book, pessimists never get anywhere.  They look forward to the worst and plan for defeat.  Their fight song ought to include a verse that says: It’s impossible and we cannot do it, so we won’t.  Only optimists have a chance at some positive outcome.  So, I would rather be disappointed a hundred times over than to give way to defeatism and negative thinking.
     My religion teaches me that the world can be improved, and that I should want to be part of that progress and improvement.  If it doesn’t happen today, well there’s always tomorrow.  So, if there is one value that has stuck with me through good and bad times since 1961 it is the unwavering conviction that I came into adult life with hope and I’ll be blessed if I shall go out any other way.
            Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi

From the Rabbi - April 2011 PDF Print E-mail

Dear Friends:

The first seder of Pesach this year will be celebrated on Monday, April 18.  Elsewhere in this newsletter, I’ve included a list of the items that we customarily find on the seder table.  Two of them are marked with an asterisk.  Do you know why?

Everyone knows that the seder is a retelling of the experience of the Israelites, first as slaves in Egypt, then as they were freed with God’s guidance and Moses’ leadership, and finally making explicit the lesson of Pesach: if we like freedom, it is our task to extend this boon to all other peoples.

All but two of the items of the seder table list have roles to play as we unfold the Passover story.  But what about the roasted egg and the green herbs?  They are never used during the seder; they are extraneous to the story of Jewish liberation.  Yet they are present.

The reason is that, originally, there were two holydays, one after the other, in the spring.  One was called The Feast of Matzot, and it was akin to our present-day Passover seder.  The other was called the Feast of Aviv (Spring) and dealt with the rebirth of nature in March and April.  The symbols of life and growth that the egg and greens constitute are remnants of this older festival that was overwhelmed by the historically-oriented Feast of Matzot.  They are vestiges of a much earlier celebration.  Maybe you can find a way to include them in your family’s celebration this year.

What is crucial, regardless of how you observe Pesach and what ritual objects you include in your celebration, is to remember and act on the fundamental syllogism and lessons of the holyday. There are four simple insights you need to have.

1. Slavery is a terrible institution.  Slavery stinks.

2. Freedom is far to be preferred.  Freedom is great

3.It would be selfish in the extreme if we enjoyed freedom      for ourselves, but refused to help make it a reality for others who are not now free. The task to which the seder calls every Jew is to be a bringer of freedom, whether to someone who is actually in chains or to someone who is enslaved by chronic illness, illiteracy, hunger, loneliness or any other condition that denies to a person the benefits of full freedom.

4.The reason that Elijah does not appear at our doors to announce the imminent arrival of the Messiah is that we have not yet completed our task of bringing freedom to the world.  When we have created a world in which freedom is the legacy of all men and women, then Elijah will stand at our doorsteps on  Passover and point down the street to the Messiah who is about to arrive.

For Phyllis and myself, for all who lead Congregation Beth Israel, we wish you the happiest possible Pesach and stimulation that will lead you to help change the world in the coming year.

            Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi
From the Rabbi - March 2011 PDF Print E-mail

Dear Friends:

As I write these words, I am just a week before the departure of our tour group for Israel.  Over the last several months, I have had repeated conversations with both members of our own congregation and some of the non-Jews who will be with us.  One consistent theme is that some of the travelers hope that they will have a spiritual experience in the Holy Land, that they will have some kind of new awareness of God.

I know that this aspiration is held out, particularly to those who are going to visit the Western Wall of Herod’s temple in Jerusalem.  I have seen videos and heard testimonies of people who have approached the Wall and who have had, what they describe, as transformative experiences.

For a person who does have such an experience, it’s wonderful and it’s real.  But it does not happen for everyone, at least not in the same way.  Some people are repelled by the unremitting orthodoxy surrounding this site, and the demand of the ultras that there is only one way to pray.  Others are equally turned off by the misogyny of the Wall’s custodians – women are strictly limited and segregated.

A day or two ago, I drove up Shoreline Blvd., from town and passed the First United Methodist Church.  Their new neon billboard advertised a shining “Rock and Worship” event.  Out at Bay Area Fellowship, a variety of bands and styles of popular music entertain and, perhaps, inspire the faithful.  Maybe, I thought, it is not the stillness of the stones in Jerusalem and their black-clad guardians that conveys the reality of God, but the concussive blare and swaying of contemporary religious and even secular music.  Maybe God is more likely to be found in the jukebox than in the sanctuary.

On Friday night, March 18, we shall celebrate the Jewish holiday of Purim.  Is it possible that one might find God amid the revelry and silliness of that festival?  How ironic it would be if God were to become apparent in the midst of the reading of the Megillah, the book of Esther, a volume that almost did not gain admission into the canon of Holy Scripture.  Why?  Because Esther never mentions God, prayer or religion.  It is a totally secular folk-tale that was ultimately accepted into the Bible because “after all, a miraculous rescue like this could only have happened as part of a divine plan.”

Maybe God is at the Wall or in the sound of the rock band or at the Purim celebration – or maybe at any number of other venues.  Or perhaps the path of biblical Elijah (I Kings 19:9ff) offers the most effective guidance.  Fleeing into the desert from King Ahab and Queen Jezebel, the prophet was told that God is not in the strong wind, nor in the earthquake nor in a consuming fire.   God for Elijah appeared most powerfully in “a still small voice,” inside his own mind and his own heart.

I find the advice of the prophet Isaiah to be the most helpful in this matter.  He said: “Seek the Lord at any time that He may be found; call upon Him whenever He is near.”  There are obviously many different times and places, many situations and conditions under which one may become intensely aware of God.  The important things to me are two: never impose limits on the possibility of becoming alert to God (because that is the equivalent of imposing limits on God – not a good idea) and always keep yourself open to a sacred experience.  Then, perhaps, when you least expect it, the presence of God will become a reality in your life.  I pray for this blessing for each of you.


            Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi

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