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From the Rabbi - December 2010 PDF Print E-mail

Dear Friends:

There are a number of things I don’t expect to happen when I come to Shabbat services.

For one thing, I would be quite surprised if even a sizeable minority of the congregation showed up.  We have around 400-plus individuals who are members of CBI.  If twenty-five percent of you came to a Friday night service, that would mean about a hundred people, and I would be astonished if that happened.  One of my friends in the Los Angeles region said that his congregation was populated by Seventh-Day Absentists.  I have a pretty good suspicion that this is not solely a southern California phenomenon.

A second thing I don’t anticipate is that we shall hear a divine voice penetrating into the Sanctuary and issuing commands or specific answers to our prayers.  If such a voice did make itself heard, you’d probably accuse me of ventriloquism.  Besides, theologically, many of us are not sure that God is revealed in this way, at least in today’s modern era.  Evidence for God and godly acts is much more subtle and sophisticated than a booming bass voice – or could it be a soprano?

In nearly fifty years of rabbinical life, I’ve never experienced a member of the congregation overcome with emotion to the point of blurting out a religious vision or testimony.   Maybe I’m doing something wrong, but I am pretty sure that we expect personal transformation to be more inward and gradual and that we’re happy to leave public conversion experiences to charismatic Pentecostals.

So, is there anything I do expect to happen if someone comes to services?  Yes, there is!

When I open the siddur, I do expect a specific result.  The prayer book is a shorthand summary of what liberal Judaism stands for; it rehearses in a terse fashion the fundamental values of our religion and our culture.  If you read its pages carefully, you will find a capsule version of what a Jew ought to believe and what a Jew ought to stand for and what a Jew needs to do.

I spend my entire working life preoccupied with those values, yet even I treasure a weekly refresher course.  I am grateful to spend ninety minutes of my week rehearsing the basic premises of what and who I should be.  There remain 166½ hours in each week when I can then implement what I have reviewed and relearned at services.

But I am unusual in this respect.  Most members of CBI, most Jews, do not devote themselves directly to the study of being Jewish.  It’s an important part of our lives, but there are other involvements as well.  That’s why, it seems to me, that coming to services for a weekly repeat of the basic values is important.  Services are not, according to this way of thinking, not an end in themselves, but a vehicle to help us pattern the rest of our lives during the ensuing week.  This is a specific outcome you can expect from your attendance.  So, come in when you can and take advantage of the benefits that accrue from being in temple Friday night or Shabbat morning.

            Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi

From the Rabbi - November 2010 PDF Print E-mail

Dear Friends:

Food Fest will not be here for another two weeks, but I can already taste the delicious cabbage rolls, the kugel, the corned beef and, of course, my favorites, the half dill pickles shipped in from Brooklyn.  On Saturday, November 13 and Sunday, November 14, true “soul food” will be available in the Grossman Auditorium.

I am always awed and a little shocked to see the line of people who snake around our building at 5:00 PM Saturday evening in anticipation of this wonderful meal.  Yes, we all love the food, but there is so much more.  There are raffles and prizes and resale items and baked goods – something for everyone.

For CBI, there is, of course, a substantial financial benefit, mostly thanks to the dedicated efforts of the Sisterhood.  The contribution that Food Fest makes to the annual budget of the congregation helps us stay on a fiscally-responsible keel and is intensely appreciated.

But there are two other positive features of Food Fest that we should never forget.  The first is the sense of common purpose and friendship that develops among all the members – and there are a lot of you – who work to make the weekend such a success.  I’ve never found a better place to forge a community than in a kitchen.  In your own homes, where do guests often gather?  In the kitchen!  The CBI kitchens play a central role in the bonds that connect each of us to others in the congregation.

Beyond that, however, is the outreach that Food Fest represents into the general community.  Napoleon said that an army travels on its stomach.  I’ve got news for him, if he’s listening.  The message of Judaism and the appreciation and acceptance of Jews in Corpus Christi travels on a corned beef sandwich and pickle and some rogelach.  Nothing else that we do enhances our positive image in the community more than these two days in November.

So, if you have not yet signed up to help, there’s still time.  And, if you can’t work, at least come, bring some friends and treat everyone to a wonderful taste of Jewish cuisine.  At one and the same time, you’ll have fun and you’ll be doing something good for all of us.

Meanwhile, I’ll see you at the pickle booth.

            Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi

From the Rabbi - October 2010 PDF Print E-mail
Dear Friends:

On the second day of Rosh HaShanah, I joined about twenty-five other members of CBI for traditional services in the morning.  There was a lively spirit, much singing, and Rabbi Yonina Creditor kept up a spritely pace that moved the service with enthusiasm to a conclusion that was earlier than some of us expected.  There was a good feeling of camaraderie among this community of worshippers.

Still, I found myself reading and rereading some of the prayers in English that are found in the Silverman High Holyday prayer book, the Mahzor.   This volume was published in 1951, exactly sixty years ago.  The language is dated.  No one uses “thee” or “thou” any more, nor do we end our verbs with –est, as in “sayest.”  That kind of expression is stilted and does not resonate with modern linguistic usage.

Each generation finds it necessary to update the prayer book.  In our liberal services, I noticed that the very recent edition of Gates of Repentance that I ordered after last year’s Yom Kippur (when my really old one fell  apart) used “Eternal One” instead of other names for God – like “King” or “Sovereign.”  The Conservative movement has just published a new High Holyday prayer book called Lev Shalem, “[With a] Whole Heart.”  The editorial committee decided to omit the word “salvation” because people don’t have a clear sense of what it means, and they chose to no longer use the word “awesome” to describe God, primarily because it has been tarnished by its slangy use in Valley Girl talk.

The criteria of the Conservative editors, much like the criteria of the Reform Jewish editors, centered around two ideas: keeping faith with the traditional practices while, at the same time, addressing what congregations and modern, liberal Jews want and need.

Those two criteria sometimes complement each other and sometimes are in conflict.  Consider the Al Cheyt recital of Yom Kippur in Gates of Prayer.  It is updated to include both the traditional sins of pride and interpersonal malice, but also more modern transgressions, like pollution, governmental corruption and neglect of urban improvements.  On the other hand, there are limits imposed by traditional Jewish practice about how short the service can be and, equally, by expectations of congregants about what would be a satisfying and sufficient ritual observance.

What is crucial, however, is to note that every prayer book, whether traditional or liberal, reflects the social context in which it is to be used and the people who will hold it. The contexts change and the people change, so the prayer book itself has to change to be at all relevant to the realities of the lives of Jews.

And yet, paradoxically, the change is largely cosmetic.  At base, the values and ideas that are reflected in Jewish prayer books are the same that have characterized our worship for the last fifteen hundred years or more.  These values and ideas may be present in modern clothing, but they are the identical ones of which our ancestors spoke on their special days and of which we continue to speak on our High Holyday days.  There is something comforting and reassuring that, in the midst of all the flux and change of modern life, the values of Judaism persist to motivate and inspire our lives for a new year.
            Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi

From the Rabbi - September 2010 PDF Print E-mail
Dear Friends:
Let me tell you what I see from the pulpit during High Holyday services.  On the one hand, I observe members of the congregation who have come to the services with serious intention and prayerful purpose.  I see many of these people reacting with emotion to Avinu Malkeinu and Kol Nidre and other pieces of liturgical music.  Sometimes, I hear their voices rising above the rest of the assemblage, as they read the various prayers with an intensity that is remarkable.  I notice them leaning forward as I rise to deliver one of my sermons   What is the rabbi going to talk about, and will I agree or disagree?  You can be sure that the rabbi will hear later that day or week; these are folks who react with seriousness to what is going on in the sanctuary.

On the other hand, I also see other kinds of behavior.  I see fidgeting.  I see some members of the congregation who have dozed off.  I know who is talking with whom and who have allowed other purposes and concerns to distract them from the true nature of our gathering on these days.

In a sense, I sympathize with this latter group.  The High Holyday services are longer than the average Shabbat services and, if you are not accustomed to attending Shabbat, they can seem exceptionally long.  There is Hebrew, which some of us can sound out, but which most of us do not understand.  The style of the service tends to make the congregation rather passive, listening a lot, responding only with the words that have been pre-programmed in the prayer book.  There are lots of words.  Lots of words.  And the words flow generally from the pulpit out to the congregation, rarely in the opposite direction.  In short, someone might very well be excused if he or she got bored or distracted and, sadly, just at the time that a special moment of exaltation and inspiration occurred, was thinking about something else and missed a remarkable moment of Jewish intensity and joy.

This year, we are going to do something quite different on the afternoon of Yom Kippur.  You may recall that we finish the morning service just after noon and that there is a children’s service at 1:15.  But then there is a gap until the afternoon service begins at 3:00 P.M.  How to fill this hour’s gap?

I invite you to come into the sanctuary at 2:00 or so in the afternoon and sit quietly in one of the seats.  There will be no words, not a single word, not even an introduction.  There will be a printed program for those who want it.  But what will happen?  Ms. Evelyn McCarty, one of our City’s outstanding musicians, and her accompanist will share with us a series of selections of the world’s finest music.  Ms. McCarty plays the oboe and the English horn, two instruments superbly suited to meditation, prayer, introspection.

We want to give you this gift of speechless time, time during which you can indulge the depths of your own soul in thought, prayer, or any other mental and personal journey you choose.  You can sleep.  You can get up and go out or come in again.  But you cannot talk.  Talking would violate the privacy of your neighbors who are themselves engaged in serious personal pursuits.  At the end of the hour, Ms. McCarty will simply leave, and we shall take a short break before the afternoon service begins.

I hope that these special moments will turn out to have remarkable meaning for you.  What you do with this time is entirely up to you, but it offers you the opportunity to make the day of Yom Kippur intensely personal and powerful.

Phyllis and I send you our warmest and best greetings for the New Year.  We pray that it will be one of joy and health for all of us and, most especially, peace and progress for our troubled world.

            Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi

From the Rabbi - August 2010 PDF Print E-mail
Dear Friends,

In mid-July a number of us went to hear some “peace activists” at TAMU-CC.  They had been on the ships that the Israeli navy stopped at the end of May and were intent on telling their story.  Much of their concern was about the blockade that Israel, Egypt, the U.S. and the European Union have erected around Gaza to prevent contraband (especially weapons) from being brought into the area.

Joe Loon of our congregation stood up to make a wise and salient point.  He said that, if Hamas would honestly drop its intention to destroy Israel and its Jewish inhabitants, the blockade to which these folks objected would disappear instantly.  Their response was that we can’t talk to Hamas because it is understood to be a terrorist organization.  This, in fact, was not a response that addressed Joe’s eminently cogent point; it was a deflection from his intent and the reality of what he suggested.

The next morning, I opened my e-mails and read a story about a school in Beersheva, Israel.  I am going to reproduce for you a large part of that story because I think you need to ask yourselves a simple question.  “Is it conceivable that Hamas would  sponsor such a school in the Gaza Strip, or, to the contrary, will they continue to indoctrinate their children with anti-Israeli and anti-Jewish hate?”

It seems to me that, until Hamas is prepared to take some concrete steps toward peace and mutual understanding, Israel is compelled to take whatever security measures it deems fit, including maintaining the blockade.  They can always do things better, and they have modified some of their policies as a result of the May flotilla debacle, but the legitimate defense needs of the Jewish state mandate that they remain ever vigilant and prepared.

                                        Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi

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