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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.

  Shalom
        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.

Shalom,

Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi
        



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

In our community, there are a few corrosive problems.  The future of the Memorial Coliseum is one such issue.   For six years, we have debated the use and viability of that structure.  Some of us are convinced that the building has become an eyesore of no more utility and that it should be razed.  Others of equal conviction and conscience are persuaded that the Coliseum must be preserved and that a new function can be found.

Of a similar level of concern is the decision about the Las Brisas plant.  Some argue that there is a serious risk of dangerous air pollution, while others emphasize the promise of economic development.  There is value and legitimacy to the arguments of the advocates of both points of view, as there is in the matter of the Coliseum.

At some point, probably in the relatively near future, a final decision will be made in each of these concerns.  Law suits will be filed and decided.  Win or lose, we shall move forward.  Some of us will be pleased, others disappointed, but (except for those who are convinced that every issue is governed by an insidious, back-room conspiracy) we should ultimately be impressed that all the people had a full opportunity to be heard and that a democratic process prevailed.

Winston Churchill once said that “democracy is the least efficient system, but still the most effective.”  The questions that trouble us are being dealt with through an open and democratic process.  One controversy, however, is of a longer-term nature and threatens to subvert and even destroy the very process that has made America great – and has made America special haven for Jews and other minorities.  I refer specifically to the rejection on March 11 of the inclusion of the subject of church-state separation in the proposed high school social studies curricular standards by the State Board of Education.   Religious conservatives on the SBOE (a majority of its members) reject the idea of separation as unconstitutional and contrary to the wishes of the Founding Fathers.  This rejection represents, according to most scholars, minorities, and nearly all Jews – and certainly my own reading of the American past – an irresponsible rewriting and misrepresentation of American history and a stunning triumph of political ideology over education and accuracy.  Let me explain.

Their first contention is that the words “church-state separation” are not found in the U.S. Constitution and, therefore, do not and should not exist.  What the opponents say is true; these exact words are not in the document.   But the Constitution is not the only source of American legal precedent.  It is likely that Thomas Jefferson first uttered the words in 1803, based largely on warnings in James Madison’s “Memorial and Remonstrance” to the Virginia legislature in 1785 – two years before the Constitution was written.  There have been over two hundred years of American legal precedents affirming this idea.  It is as real and as legitimate as other actions that have been taken but are not explicitly written in the Constitution, such as the right to expand the frontiers of the nation.  (Would they propose giving the Louisiana Territory back to France?  Jefferson’s purchase was illegal according to their standards.)

In addition, the Constitution’s First Amendment contains “the establishment clause,” which is clear in its desire to avoid an entanglement of religion and government.  The Founders of this nation understood from European experience the negative consequences of a state-sponsored religion and determined to avoid those dangers by forbidding a repetition of such a relationship.  (Again, read Madison.)  The will of the Founding Fathers is clear, and it is exactly the opposite of what the SBOE majority wants to enact.  The doctrine of separation is hardly the “half-truth” that one of its SBOE opponents called it.  But then he not only questions the doctrine of separation but really does not want it at all.  It impedes a longer-term ambition and needs to be eliminated if the views of the religious and conservative clique are to triumph.

We need to appreciate that what happened last month at the SBOE was a minor skirmish in a patient effort by fundamentalist Christians to change the basic policies, practices and identity of this country.  Make no mistake.  A calculated, deliberate culture war is taking place in our society, and the ultimate goal is to reverse the doctrine of church-state separation, undo court decisions that have derived from it and replace our present system with one that is based on fundamentalist Protestantism.  The SBOE vote is today echoed in nearly half the states of the Union with the objective or re-establishing official prayer in the public schools, then passing government legislation favorable to and funding of certain religious groups and, eventually, declaring the U.S. to be a Christian nation in which everyone else is a second-class citizen.  Advocates of this position have already insinuated an elective course on the Bible, taught by one of their supporters and espousing their ideas, in the CCISD.

It remains to be seen whether Jews and others who would find themselves disadvantaged under such an altered American identity will defend their citizenship rights or acquiesce to second-class status.  You and I have a basic choice: to be pro-active and protect our prerogatives or to disappear.  This is neither hyperbole nor alarmism, but reality.  Please consider joining the Texas Freedom Network or the Americans United for the Separation of Church and State.  And write letters to your state representatives and senators – lots of letters.  You can make a difference.

Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi

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

There is a Jewish saying: “Even the poorest person in Israel is obligated to give alms, if only one penny [as there is always someone poorer than he/she].”

I was reminded of that saying the other evening as I sat at the opening meeting when the Combined Jewish Appeal offers each of us an annual opportunity to do the mitzvah of tzedakah.  I was reminded of this saying because I learned the shocking statistic that only roughly half of Corpus Christi’s Jews make any contribution to the CJA drive.  That means, of course, that approximately half of our residents do not fulfill the basic obligation of a Jew to give charity through the CJA.

Why is this important?  Let me recall a few of the points made by Jim Lodge, our guest speaker.

    In 2008, our contributions helped feed 220,000 needy Jews in the former Soviet Union.  This year, because of declining contributions (The economy is having its inevitable impact.), roughly 60,000 of these people have had to be dropped from the rolls.  This is the equivalent of every Jew in either Dallas or Houston not having even one decent meal a day.  This is an enormous amount of new suffering.

    You may remember that Israel brought a large number of Ethiopian Jews to Israel a couple of decades ago.  Their integration into Israeli society has moved forward, but there is still a long way to go.  And now it appears that there are an additional 8,000 Jewish refugees near Addis Ababa who will need to be airlifted, housed, fed and taught.  We are proud that this movement represents the only time in history that a black population was moved from one country to another for a purpose other than enslavement.  But we can only sustain that pride if we now take the necessary step of making sure that these people are offered the same privileges as other Israeli citizens and move up the economic and social ladder like everyone else.

    Jim also told us about the Jews in South America (100,000 in Argentina, alone) who face economic problems and sometimes serious anti-Semitism.

What’s the point?  Roughly half of your CJA contribution goes to alleviate these dire conditions.  You can make a difference – a real difference.  The other half stays right here in Corpus Christi.

So, here’s the deal.  If a volunteer solicitor calls you for a pledge, make one.  Make a pledge that is as generous as you can afford; every dollar makes a difference.  If no one calls you, unless your index finger is broken, pick up the phone and call the CJA at 855-6239 and ask them to help you perform a mitzvah.  If you can commit a dollar-a-month (Everyone can do at least this much.) or five or ten, you will have done something special; you will have fulfilled a sacred obligation.    And more is always welcome!

If you don’t step forward, I’m going to ask the CJA for a list of members of CBI who have met their Jewish duty and those who have not.   I won’t get the amounts, but I’ll know who’s who.  Sometime in the Spring, those who have not given can expect a personal phone call from me.  I don’t think you want to get this call, so do what is right now and help Jews around the world and in Corpus Christi to whose needs you can respond.

When you sit down to your next meal, remember Jews who do not even have that.  You’ll feel gratified knowing that you were part of the solution to their desperation.  Thanks in advance for your participation in our communal mitzvah.
                                Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi

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


For the last two weeks of January and from now on until Simchat Torah in October, we’re reading Torah passages completely suffused by the presence of Moses.  He is such a ubiquitous figure that the Pentateuch is often called “Torat Moshe,” the Torah of Moses.  And that is because the name “Moses” appears in the text almost as often as the name of the deity!


Let me share two ideas about Moses and his popularity.


First, you might note the difference between God and Moses.  God is the giver of the Torah; Moses is the receiver.  Neither one is sufficient without the other, much in the same way that the quarterback is irrelevant unless there is a wide receiver somewhere down the field to catch his pass during the Super Bowl.  Early midrashic texts (about 1500 or more years ago) tell us that God had the Torah in heaven long before the creation of the world, but that the Torah without people to act on it was, in reality, a dead letter.  Nothing could happen with Torah, it could have no effect, until some people on earth received it and took it seriously.  Moses and the Israelites who gathered at Sinai with him – and all of their successors, which means us – became the doers of Torah, the catalyst that made the high ideals embodied in the books come to life.


Moses, then, becomes the symbol for all of us who proudly proclaim that we are “the people of the book.”  (By the way, that expression first was used in the Koran, where Jews are called “ul hakitab.”  Sometimes it helps to read what others have written about us.  Maybe they are not always wrong.)  Our mission, our task on earth, is to make the values of Torah real in the society in which we live.  Like Moses who had to transmit the values of the new revelation to his people, our purpose as modern Jews is no different: we are the people who are commanded by God to make Torah values come into reality in our world.  That makes Moses a pretty important and persistent figure; he represents what we ourselves are supposed to do with our lives.


A second thought – I have been reading Bruce Feiler’s book about Moses.  It is called “America’s Prophet,” and it is a book well worth reading.  Bruce traces how the idea and image of Moses has persisted in American history, motivating all sorts of different people in different eras and ages to thoughts and actions that produced freedom.  From the words of the New England Pilgrims to George Washington to the Civil War (both sides!) to Martin Luther King, Jr., Moses has been summoned to speak for the oppressed and persecuted and to encourage those who would alleviate their burdens.  In a telling passage, the author points out that Moses was called forward more frequently in Civil War rhetoric than even Jesus; he was that important.   Bruce’s point is that no other figure in the mythology of America has been so constant and so important as Moses, and that alone should make us want to hear, over and over, the story of this legendary Jewish leader.

You will enjoy and learn from reading Bruce’s book.  Even more, you will enjoy and learn from reading Moses’ book.  Or better yet, try both.  Like chicken soup, it won’t hurt you, and it might just make a difference in your life.

 

       Shalom,

      Kenneth D. Roseman, Rabbi

 

 
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