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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

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

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