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From the 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

From the Rabbi - June/ July 2010 PDF Print E-mail

Dear Friends:

Summer is here.  I always think that the advent of the hot season ought to mean something different is going to happen during services every Shabbat at CBI.  This summer is no different.   I’m planning a party.

During the late seventies (actually 1974-1979), the artist Judy Chicago and about four hundred collaborators created a massive work of feminist art called The Dinner Party.  The “DP” is a triangular table, forty-eight feet on each side, with thirteen place settings on each leg of the triangle.  The thirty-nine mythic and real women who are invited to the party each have distinctive plates and cutlery.  There are an additional 999 names inscribed in gold on the surrounding white tile floor, making a total of 1038 women who are recognized in the installation.  After some considerable controversy, this piece of art was placed in a permanent location in the Brooklyn (NY) Museum of Art.

The “DP” was intended to highlight important women in “herstory” who had been omitted from the historical record.  The number thirteen on each side of the triangle calls to mind the thirteen men who were at the Last Supper; it replaces them with an equivalent number of women.  That’s not exactly a Jewish image, although all the men at the Last Supper were, in fact, Jews.  But, anyway, that’s what the artist wrote.

Beginning Friday, June 11 and carrying through every week (with the exception of July 2, when I shall be recuperating from knee surgery), I am going to invite two twentieth-century American-Jewish women to my own version of the Dinner Party.  Each of these pairs of women will be in related, though not identical, fields of endeavor.   Thus, for example, one week we might meet a stage actress and a movie star, while another week we might be introduced to a photographer and an artist.  You may have heard of some of these women; you may not even be aware of some of them.

Now, for the fun of it all, we’re not going to do this in the Sanctuary.  Instead, at the end of an abbreviated service, we’ll proceed into the Auditorium, gather our Oneg Shabbat goodies, and then sit around the tables for the introduction of our guests.  Where else would you want to do a Dinner Party but at a dinner table?

So, I cordially invite you to join our Dinner Party every Shabbat evening during most of June, July and August.  I think you’ll enjoy the company of twenty of the most interesting and dynamic women in modern American-Jewish life.

        Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi

From the Rabbi - May 2010 PDF Print E-mail

Dear Friends,

Would it be an understatement to say that Israel and the Middle East are complicated and difficult places?  The conventional wisdom is summed up in the phrase: “If it were easy, it would have been solved a long time ago.”  In fact, there are conflicts, not only between Israel and the Palestinians, but also between Israel and its Arab neighbors, and within both the Israeli and the neighboring societies.  Just when you think that you have a handle on one part of this multifaceted dilemma, another part rises up and confounds you.  I am minded to think that it’s like digging a hole in a sandy beach; no matter how careful you are, the sides almost always cave in and fill up part of the hole!

So, you might think that it’s not a good time to visit Israel.  Frankly, it’s as good a time as any and maybe better than most.  And that’s why Phyllis and I are leading another congregational and communal trip to this fascinating area of our globe.   We’ll be leaving Corpus Christi on Saturday, February 26, 2011.  We’ll have the opportunity to see Tel Aviv and the Israeli port at Ashdod, then drive up the coast with a stop at the fabulous archaeological site of Caesarea and then into Haifa.  In Haifa, we shall be hosted at the Leo Baeck High School, a school for all the children in the neighborhood, but run by the Reform movement.  From Haifa, it’s across the northern tier of Israel to the Galilee and Golan, then down to Jerusalem and the Dead Sea.

In addition to the regular itinerary, we are offering an optional extension to see the UNESCO World Heritage site of Petra in southern Jordan.  Look on-line at Petra and you’ll see why we want to make this extra excursion possible.

To find out all the details of the itinerary and how to sign up, follow these simple steps on your computer:

Enter www.ARZATravel.com in your search box.
Click on the entry that is titled “ARZA – Travel to    Israel.”
On the black line of titles, put your cursor on “Travel to Israel.”  A box will drop down that says “Israel Tours.”  Click there.
In the upper right of the screen, there is a box entitled “Tour Search.”  Fill in the search box with “Congregation Beth Israel” and click.
You will find an entry for Congregation Beth Israel of Corpus Christi.  Click on that entry and you will have all the information you need.  It will even provide you with both on-line and phone directions for becoming part of our group.
There will not be a group flight for this tour.  Group flights require that everyone in the group follow exactly the same itinerary.  You cannot upgrade or use miles or use a different airline or schedule.  So we shall handle air reservations individually.  The earlier you sign up for the trip, the more flexibility and options will be available to you in terms of travel arrangements.  More information will be provided once you register for the trip.

Phyllis and I very much look forward to having you with us for this exciting adventure.  We’ll learn a lot about historic Israel, but we’ll also have the chance to explore modern issues with outstanding speakers.  So, maybe, next year in Jerusalem.


Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi

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