Rabbi Jordania Goldberg

Rabbi Jordania Goldberg was ordained at JSLI. Her work as a rabbi is interwoven into her work as a counselor and writer. She is a guest rabbi internationally and is available for online counseling, teaching and life-cycle events in 2020, after her sabbatical. 

Rabbi Russell McAlmond

Rabbi McAlmond’s rabbinate path is to bring people together in mutual love and understanding.  Whatever differences we may have about life, politics, religion or any other topic we are asked to respect one another as the wonderful and unique human beings we are.  Putting people in groups and assigning values to them will deny their individuality.  The most important pillar of Judaism is to “Love Your Neighbor.”  We, and the rest of the world, must work harder on this human relations imperative.  

Rabbi Russell McAlmond serves the Southern Oregon area on the West Coast but tries to promote his vision internationally.  Originally from the Portland, Oregon area where he spent most of his career he moved to Southern Oregon in 2018.  In Portland he was a member of the Neveh Shalom Conservative Temple and worked on interfaith relations with the Portland Jewish Federation.  He also owned a registered investment advisory firm that he sold before moving south.  In addition to his MBA and MSFS he has multiple professional designations including as a Certified Financial Planner (CFP).  

He is also a proud US Marine veteran with three years active duty and an overseas deployment of fifteen months.  He was hired later in life by a DOD contractor to work with active duty service members on their financial planning as the Personal Financial Counselor for the state of Oregon.  He continues to counsel veterans of all service branches as a volunteer.   

His website where he continues to learn and write about the movement of Universal Judaism is here:  https://rabbimcalmond.wordpress.com/

Rabbi Paul “Tuviah” Schreiber

Rabbi Paul Schreiber, aka Reb Tuviah, is the rabbi and spiritual leader of Temple Beth David in Spring Hill, Florida. The soulful, spiritual journey of Reb Tuviah has taken him on many paths. Throughout the years, he has immersed himself in Jewish education and has created, led and participated in numerous Jewish and interfaith programs. Most recently, he was the rabbi of a local Havurah group in South Florida. While in the West Palm Beach / Boca Raton area, Reb Tuviah led weekly Shabbat services and monthly healing circles at local congregations and various assisted living homes. Additionally, he was the Sunday school music teacher and song leader for kindergarten through sixth grade students at a local reform congregation.

 

Reb Tuviah received his rabbinic ordination from The Jewish Spiritual Leaders Institute in New York and is a certified Hebrew Chant Leader through the Aleph Alliance for Jewish Renewal. His studies have taken him to Or Sameach in New York and Aish HaTorah in Jerusalem and Miami Beach. Additionally, he has studied with Rabbi Shefa Gold of Kol Zimra, Rabbi Marcia Prager of Aleph, and Rick Recht at the annual Songleader’s Boot Camp. He is currently enrolled as a student in the Aleph Alliance for Jewish Renewal Davening Leadership Training Institute in Connecticut.

Rabbi Cantor Robbi Sherwin

Robbi is thrilled to be Rabbi Cantor of the Wood River Jewish Community in Ketchum/Sun Valley, Idaho, commuting from Austin, Texas.  Sherwin was raised in the Air Force in small towns all over the US, where she and her 3 siblings were often the only Jewish kids in their school. Camp Young Judaea in California solidified her Jewish identity and Rabbi Robbi is forever grateful for this amazing gift. She is the biggest cheerleader for Jewish camp you will ever find.

Robbi is the spiritual leader of the Wood River Jewish Community in Ketchum/Sun Valley, Idaho. As the President of the Women Cantors’ Network, she is the lead voice for 300 female cantors and rabbis  from around the world representing all streams of Judaism. She is a Life Member of Hadassah, the National Council of Jewish Women, a certified Storahtelling Maven, a passionate college football fan and an avid Mahj Jongg player. Rabbi Robbi is in high demand as an artist/scholar-in-residence and her music has been preformed, recorded and used in synagogues, churches and festivals  from Tulsa to Tel Aviv. She is 1/3 of the award-winning Jewish rock band, Sababa and she has published 5 albums of original Jewish music. When not writing, flying, hiking, singing, flying or flying, Robbi loves to cook and bake. She and her husband, Mark Jordan, an attorney and planner specializing in resource management, have 3 adult children and two perfect grandchildren. rabbirobbi@gmail.com

“Not Lost in (Cyber-) Space”

Rabbi Galit Levy-Slater, June 2018 Published in Jewish Community Chronicle (Long Beach)

My friends and members of my congregation will be the first to tell you that I am “not your grandfather’s rabbi.”

I was raised in a family and an environment that gave me an insight into the horrors of the holocaust to which few American Jewish children were exposed.

My grandfather, Judge Justin Woodward Harding (you can Google him) was the US judge portrayed by Spencer Tracy in the film, “Judgment At Nüremberg.”  From him I learned things that even with today’s knowledge are not known by many who did not live through that time.

That said, no one could have prepared me for the journey I ultimately embarked upon years later: to study to become a cantor and to have held a cantorial position for 18 years; to decide at the age of 65 to study and be ordained a rabbi; to create a new, innovative and progressive synagogue within my community.

My synagogue, Beit HaLev, is small.  There are only a handful of Jewish people who choose to be affiliated with any congregation in my community, and last year, due to several unforeseen circumstances, we had to suspend conducting “live” services in our community clubhouse.

I had been live streaming our live services in the clubhouse with inconsistent success.  The WiFi in the clubhouse often did not work. So when we were unable to do live High Holiday services because our upstairs room was inaccessible and the alternate site (my own apartment) also became inaccessible because the streets were being repaved and there was no parking, I did all the High Holidays online.

When I began this journey, no one said it would be easy.

But it is getting easier and the adventure is filled with surprises.  By happy accident – and I am often told that there are no accidents – I discovered that my live streamed Facebook Shabbat services, broadcast from my home, are viewed by people from all over the world; my live stream congregation has grown to around 130; on Yom HaShoah I had over 850.

I will have live High Holiday services this year; but I will live-stream them as well for my global cyber-space congregation.

American Jewry is facing a falling-away from many brick-and-mortar synagogues.  I hope with all my heart that the pendulum swings back one day; but there are places in our shrinking world that are seeking spirituality any way possible and if Jews in places like Uganda, Pakistan, Brazil and India can find me on their electronic devices, I will continue to bring the beauty of our religion to them any way I can.

Rabbi Jennifer Rudin

Rabbi Jennifer Rudin is the founder of Simcha Services and Congregation Derech HaShalom. She is a Liberal Rabbi and experienced Jewish educator who believes that Judaism is relevant, meaningful and inspirational. Rabbi Rudin supports families in uniquely celebrating Jewish life events. Her work is grounded in the belief that every person experiences and expresses Judaism differently…Your Judaism….Your Way!

Rabbi Rudin holds an Undergraduate Degree in Urban Bilingual Education from Wheaton College, Norton, MA where she was a Wheaton Scholar. She earned a Masters in Jewish Education and a certificate in Jewish Family Education and from Hebrew College, Newton, MA.

Rabbi Rudin was ordained by The Jewish Spiritual Leader’s Institute and received her Rabbinic Semicha in July, 2017.

Rabbi Rudin was twice honored by the Boston Bureau of Jewish Education when she was awarded the Keter Torah Award for her groundbreaking work in Jewish education and her commitment to Jewish education. Rabbi Rudin teaches in the Middle School at Metro West Jewish Day School.

UJUC Torah Talk for your Shabbat Table, Rabbi Jennifer Rudin

This week we read two parashiyot (Torah portions), Vayakhel and Pekudei. These two parashiyot (Torah portions) complete the Book of Exodus (the second book of the Torah). When we finish a book of the Torah we say, “Be Strong, Be Strong and Together We’ll Grow Stronger”.

In Parashat Vayakhel, Moses reminds the Israelites to observe Shabbat. He reviews the directions given by God for the building of the mishkan (the portable sanctuary used in the desert) and aske the people to contribute gifts to be used in the construction. Bezalel and Oholiab are appointed to supervise the building of the mishkan. The Israelites respond by bringing so many gifts that Moses has to ask them to stop contributing! The description of the building of the mishkan continues in Parashat Pikudei. When Moses sees the completed Mishkan he blesses the Israelites. With the mishkan complete, a cloud of God covers it and fills it. When the cloud lifts, camp is broken and the Israelites continue their journey through the desert. God leads them as a cloud by day and as fire by night.

In Parashat Pikudei we learn that Moses blessed the community for a job well done. The Torah does not, however, reveal Moses’ words of blessing. AS A FAMILY imagine that you are Moses and write a blessing for the Israelites to congratulate them on the completion of the mishkan. NOW, think about the phrase that we recite when we reach the end of a book of the Torah, “Be strong, be strong and together we will grow stronger.” Why do you think we acknowledge strength as we transition from one book to another? Do you think the blessing that Moses bestowed upon the Israelites strengthened them for the next part of their journey?

Shabbat Shalom

It’s Mazal Tov Monday @ UJUC

 

Rabbi Daniel Boaz Betzel recently officiated two weddings, the first a marriage decades over due/in-coming. The ceremony was a beautiful testament to the efficacy of the enduring nature of love. And the second, a union that proves true love transcends geography, cultures, and faith during which the groom’s breaking of the glass symbolizedthe breaking down of barriers between people of different cultures and faiths. May the day soon arrive when all people will live together in peace.

Pastor Robert Brashear joined Sim Shalom’s Rabbi Steven Blane for a very happy and “Hippy” Purim Service!

Dr. Elisheva Irma Diaz Hernández BAJS, MTS, DD (Rabbi), President and Founder of Ayekah Jewish Foundation and Kehilla B’nai Emuna, and Vice President of the Coalition for Sephardic Hispanic and Ladino legacy in Los Angeles proudly announce the launch of the coalition.

Rabbi Dina London officiated a Havdalah Bat Mitzvah on Saturday night in the Chicago Area.

 

UJUC Creates a Bridge

Rabbi Ivan Browner, UJUC Founder writes from Tokyo, Japan

In today’s day and age, we as a people find ourselves closer together in so many ways.  Advances in Technology and engineering, allow me to type this blog, and instantly share it with people all over the world at the push of a button.  Unfortunately, with all this newfound closeness, we also find the division between people further than ever before. With the same push of a button, religious, social and ideological differences deepen between people, families, and nations with devastating effects.

One can just turn on the news and see the underlying tension heating to a boiling point.  It seems we are living in a tinderbox, and with the freedom granted to us by Technology; we all now have a large book of matches in hand.

Religions that were created by spiritual tenants of brotherhood and love have now become a platform to divide the world and its people into small subcultures.  And each of these subcultures is all claiming to have the light of truth on their side as too why they are correct, and the others are not.

In Judaism, we see bitter infighting between many of its denominations on the fundamental and expressions of what it means to be a practicing Jew.  The Ultra-Orthodox in Israel is denouncing less observant Jews as “Non-Jews.”  The Women Of The Wall are fighting for acceptance and facing unbearable violent reactions when attempting to Worship at the Temple Mount.  And it is not just found in Judaism, Every one of the world’s religions are fighting both within and without.

Because of this, many people feel lost or ungrounded in their approach to finding Closeness with Hashem within the context of their religious faith.  For the most part, people are genuinely saddened, feeling as though their spiritual life is floating in a rough ocean and they are desperately looking for dry land and safety. They reach out to their religious leaders for a calming spirit and are met with dogmatic answers that are speaking at them and not to them.   These responses reinforce their feelings of separation and leave them searching for a solution that resonates with their soul, not just the intellect.

Enter the UJUC –

A Group of Progressive Jewish Spiritual Leaders saw a need for this cycle to be broken and together formed the UJUC “Union of Jewish Universalist Communities.”  Our vision is to build a bridge in our communities for people, of all faiths, backgrounds, creeds, and colors to cross the divide that has been facing people of faith. The UJUC welcomes all who desire a deepened sense of Spiritual Connectedness to God and our Fellow Man and Woman.

Although the Lens of the UJUC is from a Jewish perspective, the Tenants of Jewish Universalism do not demean but welcome another’s view on how they approach God and spirituality.

The Spiritual Leaders of the UJUC all have a different position in their respective communities. Some are Rabbi’s of a Brick and Mortar Synagogue, some Religious Teachers, some Cantors and Musical Directors, some Chaplains while others minister to their local group of congregants.  The need of each community is undoubtedly unique, but all are tethered together in an eternal quest to know a broader purpose in life and closeness with the Divine.

In my home in Tokyo Japan, my UJUC Affiliated Chavurah has an active outreach focus on opening doors and find similarities of our Jewish Spiritual Path with many of the ancient Spiritual Traditions found in Asia.

My open door policy has led to a deep friendship and has facilitated many shafts of common ground with the Buddhist and Shinto Practitioners of Japan.

I have recently had the honor of speaking at a graduation commencement celebration of Zen Buddhist Priests, as they completed their formal training and received their Inka or “Teaching Certification” They welcomed me as a teacher of Judaism with open arms, as we discussed concepts of Jewish Meditation and the practice of Jewish Spirituality.  We were able to find many points of connectedness between the practice of Zen and Spiritual Judaism.  All of us that participated in this commencement celebration felt a bond of connection and love.  And by the time I was done, the head teaching Monk called the Jews “Brothers of the Buddhist Community.”

It is with this spirit of community that the UJUC seeks to enrich the lives of all people, Jew, and non-Jews alike.  Only together hand in hand can we continue empowering common ground between people of all faiths.  Together is how we build a bridge, and a linked bridge is stronger than a single bridge.  Together we will be stronger as a family, than as isolated individuals.

Please join us for this great work and help to build a bridge for the world.  We are all “Tzelim Elokim” created within the Image of God.   Now is the time we return to this fundamental truth and foster peace, understanding, and respect for all people.  That is the mission of focus of the UJUC… and it has begun.

Charity Overload

By Rabbi Deborah Reichmann

Give now! Crowdfund! It’s my birthday, donate to my fundraiser! Support my cause! We can’t do it without you! Your donation will save a life!

It is relentless. It has stopped prodding our consciences. It isn’t even an annoyance anymore, it has become another thing that we ignore. We are pulled in dozens of different directions, from family, from friends, from neighbors, from organizations we belong to and those we don’t. We are asked to act politically, environmentally, socially and globally. We should give time, resources and money. Especially money.

And yet.

There are real needs. There are causes worth supporting. Truly, not giving is not an option.

There are demonstrable benefits to being a giver–we feel better about ourselves, we get better about being grateful for what we have, we deepen our friendships and strengthen our communities.

How do we balance? How do we choose?

We pin all the worthwhile causes to a bulletin board and throw darts at it.

We take the first come first served approach.

We work from inside out–give to the causes that affect us personally and then move outward from there.

Honestly, it all works. But, the real trick is to find a system that works for you. One that maximizes your ability to have impact, as well as your sense of personal satisfaction.

Judaism, of course, has something to say about this.

The Hebrew word for charity is tzedakah, but that is a poor translation of the word. The root of tzedakah, is tzedek, which means justice. In Judaism, the primary force behind ma’asim tovim (good deeds), is a desire to create a more just society.

If every cause that comes our way has merit, how can we turn any down in good conscience? We can, because we must. Jewish law dictates that one must give 10% of our income to the poor (after taxes). That said, we must not give to the point that we become needy.

Maimonides organized the levels of charity:
Giving begrudgingly
Giving less that you should, but giving it cheerfully.
Giving after being asked
Giving before being asked
Giving when you do not know the recipient’s identity, but the recipient knows your identity
Giving when you know the recipient’s identity, but the recipient doesn’t know your identity
Giving when neither party knows the other’s identity
Enabling the recipient to become self-reliant

It all counts as charity, even giving begrudgingly, but the goal is to create a world where no one has a great need, and indeed, we all support each other in doing the best we can.

Throw that dart. Write that check. It’s worth it. It is always worth it.

“Til Death or Faith Do us Part”: Seven Things You Should Consider Before Your Inter-Faith Marriage

By Rabbi Daniel Betzel

 

If we were to meet in my office to discuss your upcoming inter-faith marriage, here are some of the ideas I would want to share with you:

 

First, I would want you to know that you have done NOTHING wrong by falling in love with someone from another faith tradition.  You are not rejecting anything; you are actually choosing something in addition to what you already have and who you already are.   As you prepare for your upcoming wedding, I would encourage you to be certain to respect yourself, your family, your family’s tradition and then to be sure to extend that some level of respect to your future spouse and his/her family and tradition.

 

Here are seven ideas or concepts that I would encourage you and your future spouse to consider:

 

  1. CONSIDER PRE-MARITAL COUNSELING: We know that all relationships take work—and sometimes very hard work!   Furthermore, many interfaith marriages take place at perhaps the most secular-oriented time in a person’s life.  It is very easy to underestimate the role that your family’s faith and tradition will play once you have children and you and your spouse age.  Pre-Marital Counseling provides you and your beloved the time and space to explore issues, talk freely with each other, and get to know each other on an even deeper emotional/spiritual level.  The more you understand yourself and your spouse, the more likely you are to create a meaningful and mutually joyous path forward.

 

 

  1. DON’T IGNORE THE DIFFERENCES/DISCOVER AND CELEBRATE YOUR DIFFERENCES: Sometimes it is easy of us to pretend that there are no real differences and that love will conquer all.   In my experience, once the glow of the wedding days begin to fade and usually by the time the first child is born,  tensions between your faith traditions can arise.  Please consider getting very clear about those issues that you do not want to compromise on and get those out on the table before the wedding.  Getting very clear about what is important to each of you is the first step toward understanding each other on a deeper level.  Once you clearly understand each other, you will be in a much better position to accept and even celebrate the differences.

 

  1. TRY AND SEE WHERE YOUR PARENTS ARE COMING FROM: Sometimes parents are not initially happy and supportive when they learn that their child is marrying out of their faith.  Try and remember that almost all parents love their children and want the best for them.  Also, please remember that your parents may be afraid that your marriage to someone outside of their faith may take you away from them.  They also may worry that any eventual grandchildren may be raised in another faith.  Be mindful of how and when you speak to your parents about your wedding plans.  Be certain to re-assure them of your love and that you are not rejecting them or their faith.  Usually, most parents will come around and soon learn to love your future spouse as much as you do.

 

  1. DISCUSS NOW HOW YOU WILL RAISE YOUR CHILDREN: Naomi Schaefer Riley in “Interfaith Unions: A Mixed Blessing”, reports that less than 50% of those she interviewed reported they discussed in which religion they would raise their children BEFORE they were married.  It is almost always easier to discuss these issues before the fact.  I would encourage you and your beloved to take the time now to envision how your future family will look and function.  Will your child attend Hebrew School?  Will you celebrate both Christmas and Chanukah?  Will you child be baptized?  Have a bris and/or baby naming?  These topics can be the catalyst for greater understanding and mutual respect.

 

  1. DISCUSS YOUR UPCOMING CEREMONY: As an inter-faith couple, you will have many choices to make regarding your wedding ceremony and reception.  Will you purchase a Ketubbah (Jewish Marriage Contract) and will it be read during the ceremony.  Will you work with your clergy to incorporate elements of both faiths into your ceremony so that both families can feel connected and comfortable.  Are there specific rituals, music, and readings that can make both families feel included?

 

  1. DISCUSS HOW YOU WILL CELEBRATE HOLIDAYS?   Holiday celebrations can be very tricky.  How do you remain true to yourself and still compromise with your spouse so that all feel included and valued.  How do you welcome family members of other faith traditions into your home and make them feel comfortable while still remaining true to yourself?  It can be a very difficult balancing act; however, if you remain committed to yourself and each other, you will be able to find a mutually satisfying path forward.

 

  1. COMMUNICATE! COMMUNICATE! COMMUNICATE!: Did I previously say that it is imperative that you stay in communication with yourself, your spouse, your families, and your friends?  You are embarking on one of the most wonderful journeys of your entire life.  It is probably not too surprising that many interfaith couples find it difficult to discuss their religions in depth once they have agreed to get married.  Many have expressed the concern that if they start down this path, the discussion may turn into a very heated argument that could even threaten the couple’s future.  Try and resist the urge to not be aware and conscious about your differences and your needs and the needs of your future spouse.

 

Mazel Tov and Be’chatz’l’cha!  Congratulations and the Best of Luck!

 

If you would like to discuss this or any other issues regarding your connection to Judaism in greater detail, please reach out to one of the UJUS Rabbis found on the UJUC website at www.ujuc.org.

 

A Life Well-Lived by Rabbi Ken Hahn

My 94 year old cousin died recently. He lived a great life, and it could truly be said about him, he died with no regrets. I was struck by the tributes he received. He was very successful in business; he earned a lot of money in his life and supported a great many philanthropic causes. At the end, however, that’s not what I heard about; his business acumen and wealth were not what people cared to speak of. What I did hear about was a man who cared about everyone… everyone. I heard about a man who asked you a lot of questions when he was with you, about your experience, your successes and travails and who really wanted to hear the answers. Sh’ma… he listened. And he was right in there with you when trouble came knocking on your door. He had an open heart, and an open checkbook if that’s what was needed.

I heard about a man who was truly humble, even though he had no reason to be. I saw a man who embodied grace, who suffered the loss of his brother 11 months ago with equanimity, even though he and his brother had spoken every day for the past 65 years, no matter where each of them was, whether down the road or in vastly different time zones.

My cousin was born in another era. He didn’t always want to change with the times, but change he did. Vis-a-vis his Jewish identity, he and his family kept kosher; they devoutly went to synagogue every Shabbat, and all three of his daughters married Jewish men. Not long before his death I spoke with him about the fact that his youngest grandchild was just recently engaged to a non-Jewish woman. “How did he feel about that?” I asked. His reply came quickly. That’s the way of the world these days, and he offered his tacit acceptance.

More than anything, for his children, grandchildren and great grandchildren, my cousin in the words of one of his daughters, offered that Sukkat Shalom, that sense of sheltering peace. Being in his presence, knowing he was there made everyone feel safe and warm. We could all go to sleep happy and comfortable, knowing he was available if need arose.

In short, my cousin lived a good life, and he was rewarded with a good death, with all of his many children, grandchildren and great grandchildren making pilgrimages to see him in his final two weeks of life. (Why wait until the funeral to see a dying relative? Why not see him when he’s still here and able to communicate, offer his wisdom, share his love, hear how he made a difference in your life?) With his three daughters at his bedside. Dying quietly in his sleep.

I reflected on what it is to lead a good life and looked to Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Sages), that very remarkable and I dare say unique section of the Talmud. I found this, which I annotate here, from Ben Zoma:

Who is wise? One who learns from everyone.

Who is strong? One who subdues himself.

Who is rich? One who loves what is.

Who is honored? One who honors others.

My cousin embodied these statements. 

I hope the light that shone in my cousin’s heart has not gone out, but rather transformed into another beacon. May his memory be a blessing and an impetus to spur all of us to expect nothing less than the highest expressions of wisdom, strength, wealth and honor, from those down the street and those in high places.

Rabbi Deborah McKenzie

Rabbi Deborah McKenzie has served as a Jewish spiritual leader and counselor for more than 20 years.  She works interfaith and people of faith who seek to enhance or add a Jewish spiritual perspective to their understanding and experiences.

 

As lifelong learner, Rabbi Deborah enjoys studying and engaging on the Tanach and wisdom of the Rabbi to find practical relevance and application for today’s reality.  She also enjoys examining scientific principles within the texts.  Her love of Torah and teaching she attributes to her parents and their tenacity to provide a strong Jewish and spiritual foundation amidst during a time when being African-American and Jewish was unique in the African-American, Jewish, and Christian communities.  Nevertheless, it is in living and learning at the intersection of diverse perspectives that established multiple bridges of understanding and cooperation that continues to reinforce her faith and supports her work with all people of faith.

 

She learned of the Jewish Spiritual Leaders Institute (JSLI) and Jewish Universalism in 2013 after an internet search for rabbinic online learning resulted in JSLI and Sim Shalom.  She logged onto Sim Shalom website for a  Friday Kabbalah Shabbat Service with founder and Dean Rabbi Blane and that was it.  In January 2015, she fulfilled her childhood dream when she was ordained a rabbi through JSLI.  She streams weekly Ma’ariv services for Congregation Sim Shalom.

 

Rabbi Deborah also has a BA and MS in Bioanalytical Chemistry.  She resides in the Maryland suburbs of Washington, DC where she also is a senior director at AOAC INTERNATIONAL where she implements processes for voluntary consensus standards development and conformity assessment programs for analytical test methods used in global food safety and public health.

 

Website: Rabbi Deborah McKenzie

Rabbi Karen Becker-Marcelo

Rabbi Karen Becker-Marcelo took her passion of Judaism, working with people and teaching, to it’s culmination, by receiving smicha from the Jewish Spiritual Leadership Institute in January 2017. As a member of Union of Jewish Universalist Communities (UJUC),  she embraces the doctrines of Jewish Universalism including  encouraging ‘Interfaith families and all people to participate in our Jewish worship and rituals.’Rabbi Karen is a rabbi at SimShalom Online Synagogue,a Jewish Universalist online synagogue, leading weeknight Ma’ariv services.

 

Her family was not religious, but had a strong Jewish identity. Born and raised in New York, this identity was the impetus for her to learn.  At Queens College in Flushing NY, Rabbi Karen continued her studies in Conversational Hebrew (her professor was the grandson of David Ben-Gurion) and studied history, in particular history of the Jewish People and Israel.  Upon graduating in 1977, Karen put a backpack on her back and lived on a kibbutz, where she picked grapefruits while studying in the Ulpan and touring the country.

 

With an MS in History/Secondary Education, Rabbi Karen taught for 32 years in the private and public schools of New York City.  When her son was ready to begin Hebrew School, Rabbi Karen and her husband became very involved in their synagogue in Westchester NY.  She was hired to teach there and this was the beginning of almost 2 decades of teaching in various Jewish Synagogue schools.  Her subjects range from Hebrew (various levels), history of the Jewish people, prayers and Jewish Ethics and Values, to all age levels.

 

She was on several Synagogue and Religious School Boards in NY.  Rabbi Karen was also a director on the Jewish Council of Yonkers.  Now living with her husband in South Florida, she continues to teach Hebrew School and is a director at Tree of Life Chaverim in Lake Worth Florida.

 

Website: Rabbi Karen Becker-Marcelo

Rabbi Daniel Betzel

Rabbi Betzel serves the Greater Columbus metro area where he officiates life-cycle events for Jewish and interfaith families.  Rabbi Betzel also serves as an Ohio Ambassador for Sar El–The National Project for the Volunteers for Israel. Rabbi Betzel spends several weeks each year in Israel volunteering on various IDF bases.

 

Rabbi Betzel was ordained as a Rabbi in July, 2017 through JSLI—The Jewish Spiritual Leaders Institute, located in New York City.  Prior to beginning his Rabbinic Studies, Rabbi Betzel earned an M.A. in Jewish Studies from Gratz College.  Prior to his ordination, Rabbi Betzel also attended The Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem, Israel.

 

Rabbi Betzel also earned a Juris Doctorate from The Ohio State University College of Law.  He has practiced law and provided financial services for most of his adult life; however, he has always found time to be active in his synagogue and to teach.  He has taught Hebrew Classes, served as a Bnai’ Mitzvah tutor, a Confirmation Class teacher and has taught many Adult Education Classes at his synagogue.

 

Rabbi Betzel’s goal is to use his varied educational and life experiences to assist others in creating meaningful life cycle events that are both enjoyable and memorable.

 

Rabbi Betzel explains that Judaism must serve the Jew, not the other way around. This is the guiding principle of his work as a Rabbi. “To serve each individual Jew requires each of us to view our tradition as organically changing.  Judaism is an overarching umbrella, ever expanding to INCLUDE rather than exclude; to EMBRACE rather than reject. How can we reject when we know that God LOVES each person? It is only in this manner that the Jewish people will be an eternal blessing to humankind.”

 

Rabbi Betzel lives in Gahanna, Ohio with his wife of 31 years, Elizabeth.  Rabbi Betzel and his wife have two beautiful children, Anna who is a graduate student in New York City, and Kye an undergraduate student in Columbus, Ohio.

 

Website: Rabbi Daniel Betzel

Dance Partners

Rabbi Diane Rose
Those of us who are part of progressive spiritual groups and participate in interfaith activities often speak of the belief that all religions are here to serve the same purpose in different ways. Whether we are Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Hindu… aren’t we all searching for answers, working toward peace, and living our lives according to a structure that reminds us to connect to our communities and to our inner-worlds? I believe the answer is yes.

We cannot deny, however, that our Books and Teachers don’t always preach this. Yes, we can stay safe and quote Leviticus:

“The stranger that sojourns with you shall be as the home-born to you, and you shall love him as yourself.”

Or Hillel:

“What is hateful to you do not do to your fellow man.”

Or Jesus:

“Love thy neighbor as thyself.”

or the Quron:

“We have appointed a law and a practice for every one of you. Had God willed, He would have made you a single community, but He wanted to test you regarding what has come to you. So compete with each other in doing good. Every one of you will return to God and He will inform you regarding the things about which you differed.” (Surat al-Ma’ida, 48).

But we can just as easily point out the opposite from each religion. The Israelites were not to adopt any rituals from their neighbors and in fact were to destroy their altars, pillars, and sacred trees. The Gospel of John has some not-very-nice things to say about Jews, and the Quron outlines some serious doom and gloom for non-believers.

But I still hold on to my belief that all of our religions have been dancing with each other since humanity first asked the question, “Where did we come from?” I hold on to the idea that our goals are (or at least used to be) the same, and that we have learned and borrowed from each other since we first searched for a God. So it is really refreshing when we find those undeniable interconnections between religions or cultures. Think of the incredible similarities between the stories of Gilgamesh and Noah, or the many religions with creation stories that begin with the world being a dark, watery emptiness.

Well, I may have a new one, and I learned all about it at… a Luau.

“Ha” in Hawaiian means “the sacred breath of life.” When we think about common Hawaiian words, many include “ha.” Alo-ha, Ha-waii, O-ha-na, Ma-ha-lo. These words aren’t just about a greeting, a place, a family, and a thank you. They are infused with the idea that when we speak to one another, our sacred breath is acknowledging the sacred breath of the other.

I find it interesting that in Judaism we have S-ha-lom which not only includes a “ha” but also closely matches the meaning of Aloha. Aloha is known as hello and goodbye, but it also means love, compassion, warmth, and friendliness (think of when people say “the spirit of Aloha”). Shalom similarly means hello and goodbye as well as peace (as any kid who had a Jewish education can tell you), but the root of Shalom, Shin-Lamed-Mem, means complete. Shalom is the completion of the soul… the way to peace. Doesn’t Shabbat Shalom mean a lot more than just a peaceful Shabbat? Two complex words at the center of Jewish and Hawaiian spirituality.

Of course, we cannot discuss “ha” without talking about Avram. In the Torah, God gave Avram a “ha” and Sarai an “h” (hey) as well when God blessed them as God’s own and promised them they would be the parents of a peoplehood. Their names were affected by God, the sacred breath of life now infused in them.

Maybe this is a stretch, but even just the word “ha” in Hebrew (which means “the” ) could have a spiritual connection. Everything definite has the letter hey in front of it. Each item, person, place, even adjective, with the “h” sound is as sure and true and real as our breath. Maybe not connected to Hawaiian language, but I like it anyway.

I wish the Hebrew word for breath/spirit was Ru-cha instead of Ru-ach. If it was, I’d be doin’ a mic drop. Maybe it’s close enough that we have to flip the letter chet and the “ah” vowel so it at least looks like Ru-cha?

Now, I don’t know if Hawaiian culture and Jewish culture ever danced around one another early enough to affect each other in these ways. It would be fascinating (for someone smarter than I am!) to find out if the trading and emigrating communities ever ended up in the same place at the same time. But even if they didn’t, I am going to add a little extra “ha” to my Hebrew and infuse the sound with my belief that we all share the same sacred breath of life.

And with that I say, S-HA-lom and Alo-HA to you. 🙂

What is Jewish Universalism? Why does it matter?

Rabbi Blane writes:

To answer those questions, I need to revisit a bit of personal history.

When I first conceived of Jewish Universalism, it was during a transitional period when I declined my synagogue’s offer of a contract renewal in January, and I had to remain in my position until July. For Rabbis and Cantors, those months are a time of soul searching- and job searching. We tend to just “walk through the motions” and show up and perform our duties but often devoid of much spirit or “Neshama” (soul). Many nights I couldn’t sleep and I awoke at 3am to stare at the ceiling and wonder what would I do to provide for my family and my spirit.

Over the course of three years as Rabbi of that Conservative synagogue (and fifteen years prior to that as Cantor and Spiritual Leader of several other synagogues), I came to reject Conservative theology. It simply did not feel like home.

Despite it’s great scholarship and the fact that it is the best place to learn rituals and liturgy, Conservative Judaism eventually caused me great pain. The hypocrisy was exasperating and exhausting. We were kosher in the synagogue to the extreme, but most of the congregants were un-kosher outside. No food collection for the poor-even canned goods- that were un-kosher were permitted in the synagogue. Our membership was dying in that community, so we discussed selling the building and moving to a nearby town where the pickings might have been better. But that would never happen- the leaders of the shul (a/k/a those few who did everything) would not have it. We fought battles over playing music at Services, over Bat Mitzvah girls covering their heads, about the role a non-Jewish family member might play at a B’nai Mitzvah, about changing/updating prayer books, and on and on. Everything was a battle.

And anytime someone new would show up for a worship service, they would only stay about an hour and then they were gone. Our Shabbat morning Services were often three hours long.

And so, during those last months of that waning contract I had the opportunity to envision what Judaism truly meant to me, how I believed G-d intended it to be shared and how I might best transmit it as a teacher to all the people for whom I knew it simply was not resonating.

My background as a Yeshiva student during my formative grammar and High School years gave me broad perspective on living as a traditional Jew- although that was in reality never to be my path. In college and subsequently for years afterward, I drifted away from Judaism. I rarely went to synagogue, ate “treif” (un-kosher) and indulged in a poor artistic lifestyle which consisted mainly of writing music in the days and playing gigs in the evenings.   So after a Jewish Yeshiva education and college, there was a span of about ten years, until I was married and my first daughter was born, during which I gave little thought to my Judaism.

But then something awakened.

When marriage and children came along, faith re-enters the sphere of importance. This “life-event” Judaism  awakens in many, many Jews. I imagine it happens across all religions. It is a rather common phenomena and of course, for those of us in the position of Rabbi or Cantor, those are the times of greatest opportunity to welcome, teach and bond. And we only have a narrow span of years to reach them, because as we know after a Bar or Bat Mitzvah occurs, synagogue affiliation is simply over.

How sad it is then, when people become ready to re-explore their Jewish heritage, members of the Jewish community often are unwelcoming, display ill-will, are judgmental, speak Lashon Hara (“evil tongue/gossip”) and even openly spar with one another. Even today, Synagogues can be exclusive and expensive. And when it comes to the Conservative Movement, many shuls are typically in severe membership decline and comprised of mainly the elderly.
How many Conservative synagogues today still don’t try to adjust to the needs of their communities? Their ritual committees restrict the participation of  interfaith couples, refuse to meaningfully adapt their Hebrew School curricula, to shorten the length of Services to make them more resonant and on and on.

All of the current discussion surrounding whether or not Conservative Rabbis should officiate at Interfaith Weddings seems silly and even irrelevant. It’s all way too little and way too late.  Conservative rabbis who would officiate at Interfaith ceremonies subject to certain “pre-conditions” are frankly irrelevant to mainstream Jews.

Below, I share links to articles from the past year, which illustrate the sad state of a substantial portion of progressive Judaism and how the Movements struggle. Even their connections to Israel have become more and more challenged.

In April 2016, many Reconstructionist rabbis formed their own association in protest of the Movement accepting Rabbinical candidates who’s partners were not Jewish:

http://www.jpost.com/Diaspora/19-Reconstructionist-rabbis-form-offshoot-over-intermarried-rabbis-BDS-450701

In June 2017, the Rabbis at BJ, the iconic Conservative synagogue in NYC, came out to support officiating at Interfaith Weddings- with certain “conditions.”

http://www.jta.org/2017/06/16/default/rabbis-at-influential-ny-synagogue-to-officiate-at-intermarriages

Described by a Conservative Rabbi as the “issue of our time,” the BJ decision faces pushback from the rest of the Conservative Movement.

http://jewishstandard.timesofisrael.com/this-is-the-issue-of-our-time/

The Jewish Renewal Movement is in disarray as their Board quits and rabbis there is a vacuum and a lack of authority.

http://forward.com/news/376098/mystical-jewish-renewal-movement-faces-fresh-divisions-3-years-after-founde/

Progressive and Liberal Jews reevaluate their relationship to Israel and Zionism and make America their first priority.

http://www.timesofisrael.com/jewish-millennials-increasingly-putting-zionism-second-and-america-first/

The egalitarian prayer space at the Western Wall is scrapped, much to the joy of the Ultra Orthodox who claim the wall for the Orthodox only. And of course, the matter of Jewish Conversion, performed by non-orthodox or non-Israeli sanctioned rabbis occupies a rather large part of the debate.

http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/columns/fuchs-focus/reforms-naked-agenda/2017/07/10/

http://jewishstandard.timesofisrael.com/charedi-rabbi-explains-why-he-opposes-the-western-wall-deal/

And last but not least a McCarthy-like “list” has been issued comprised of American Rabbis who’s Jewish Conversions are not to be recognized in Israel.

http://www.timesofisrael.com/here-is-the-chief-rabbinates-blacklist-of-american-rabbis/

So again what is Jewish Universalism?

JU is a practical, authentic Jewish response to the turmoil described above- a non-judgmental, all-inclusive, kind and loving Judaism. Jewish Universalism is not filled with angst, does not demarcate lines-in-the-sand, or foster restrictions. In JU, you and your partner and family can just be yourselves. We are happy to have you- and we want to teach you and learn from you. We are pluralistic/multi-denominational (it means you don’t even have to be Jewish to worship with us). We rise above the fractional fray within the mainstream Jewish World, roll up our sleeves and get to work!

Our mantra as Jewish Universalists is “Hear oh Israel, Hear oh Humankind, the Lord is G-d and G-d is one!”

We exclude political discourse from our religious worship and gatherings at a time when the lines between Church and State are increasingly blurred and it’s all too easy to fall into the trappings of taking political sides.

We trust that our JU Doctrines embrace everyone who would like to be a part of our vision- a vision of true “Oneness,” a vision of non-exclusivity and a vision of respect and harmony for all people regardless of their faith, or even lack thereof.

As eighteen Jewish Universalist Rabbis who serve their communities understand, we are blessed to be called to service without the restriction of a particular Jewish Movement’s dogma that prevents us from truly meeting the needs of the modern Jew.

And that’s who we are. We welcome you all!

Transforming Fate Into Destiny

May 17, 2017 Rabbi Dina London

Recently, I attended a performance at the Goodman Theater in Chicago called “Destiny of Desire,” a take on the Spanish soap opera. The playwright, Karen Zacarias, was quoted in the playbill as saying, “Destiny is different from fate.  Destiny is what your life can be if you realize your potential, if you believe in your potential and you go for it.  Destiny is not something that happens to you; it’s something you have to strive for.  Unlike fate, which is something that’s sealed and locked, destiny is fluid and can evolve.  Who you were and who you can become is within your grasp…”

In the Torah, at this moment in time, the Israelites are experiencing their sojourn in the desert.  In just a few weeks, they will gather at Mt. Sinai to witness the revelation of the 10 commandments.  Their fate could have been to lose interest in their culture of old, ignore Moses, and wander forever, but their destiny, what they had to work for, was getting their people to the promised land.  As Rabbi Levi Meier says, “Torah teaches us that our fate is not predetermined by circumstances of nature or nurture.  You can always create your destiny.”

But, it is important that we realize that there is no “date with destiny.”  Destiny doesn’t just appear on our calendar, waiting for us at the nearest Starbucks.   Rabbi Yosef Dov Solveitchik teaches us (in “Who by Fire, Who By Water”) to distinguish between goral, fate, and yi’ud, destiny.  He says that our mission in this world is to turn fate into destiny, from an existence that is passive to one that is active and influential.  To me, what that means is that destiny equals the creative response to the impermanence of life.

As Jews we understand this need for using creativity to move through our existence.  For instance, we have many approaches to naming…not naming a baby until the eighth day (high infant mortality throughout much of history), changing someone’s name if they are very ill to fool the angel of death, etc.  The Jews of Alsace were said to have come up with the idea of “change of place, change of luck.”  If your fate in your current location doesn’t look promising, don’t be afraid to pick up and re-create your life somewhere else.

Though they may not know it, when Jews say “Mazel Tov,” what they are really saying is “may the stars be favorably aligned for you.”  But astrology isn’t just about the fate that the energy of the stars and planets bequeath upon you.  No, our birth chart asks us to take the ever changing alignments and creatively mold that energy into our destiny.  In other words, “the mazel we are born with is elastic, ” says Rabbi Avi Weiss in “Who by Fire, Who by Water.”

After a 9 year hiatus, I’ve been binge watching Grey’s Anatomy on Netflix.  Amidst the soap opera nature of the show, if you listen carefully, each episode aims to relay a teaching.  And, in season 5, Episode 14, the main character, Meredith Grey, sums up the response we must have if destiny is to trump fate.  “We have to keep reinventing ourselves…almost every minute…because the world can change in an instant.  And, there’s no time for looking back.”

The Changing Face of Religion in America

April 27, 2017 | Rabbi Judy Ginsburgh

Earlier this year, I had the wonderful opportunity to hear Dr. Diana Butler Bass speak on two different occasions.  She is an author, speaker, and independent scholar specializing in American religion and culture.   Her latest book is called “Grounded: Finding God in the World, a Spiritual Revolution.”

During her talks, she discussed statistics about religion today.  In a poll taken in 1960, only 2 percent of the American population said they were unaffiliated and did not identify with any religion.  In 2015, a similar poll was taken and almost 28 percent of the American population said they were unaffiliated and did not identify with any religion.  Dr. Bass also pointed out that up until 2012, the majority of the people in the United States identified religiously as White Protestants.  By 2012, America was becoming a diverse religious place to be.  We were seeing a decline in such things as “Jewish neighborhoods”.  No longer did people of similar religion and culture live in the same areas of town.  Christians lived next to Jews who lived next to Hindus and so on.  Neighborhoods were also no longer black or white, but instead a diverse mixture of people from all races, cultures and religious backgrounds.

In 2012, no one religious group made up a majority of the “pie chart.”  Even the White Protestants, who previously held the majority position made up less than 50% of our total religious American demographic.  During this 50 plus year span of time from 1960 to 2012, the Jews steadily occupied about 1 to 2% of the religious population in America.  Dr. Bass’ conclusion is that, with no one religion having a majority of the population, American religion is no longer as diverse as it once was…but is instead, becoming pluralistic.  We are intermingling, we are talking more, people feel more at ease to explore, share and question (something we Jews have always done).  As far as religion goes in America today, we have moved from diverse to pluralistic.

Dr. Bass also pointed out that less and less of our younger generations are affiliated with a religious institution.  However, just because there is a decline in institutional religion, this does not mean that we are not connecting with personal spiritual experiences.  The majority of our younger generation claims to feeling “spiritual” as opposed to “religious.”  There has been a steady rise in the number of people who admit to having had a “spiritual” experience.  In the 60’s about 24 percent of the population said they had gone through a spiritual experience. In 2009, about 50% of the population admitted to having had a spiritual experience.  Statisticians speculate that today, in 2017, that percentage would increase even further to about 54%.  In this present time, more and more people are experiencing something spiritual.

So, what does this mean for our congregations?  How are we, as clergy and congregational leaders, supposed to continue to keep our congregations vital and meaningful and engage our younger generations?  Dr. Bass suggests that we help our congregants to see the wonder of our world…the beauty and awe that exists all around us.  When people were asked where they felt most spiritual (especially the younger generation), the most common answer was in nature.  Not in a synagogue, not in a church, not in the safety of our homes, but outside soaking in the awesome power of God.  

Our Jewish camps continue to grow stronger and reach more young Jews than ever before.  They get it.  This may be the key to reaching our younger generation.  While at camp, they feel a spiritual connection with nature and they experience the awesomeness of God.  They want to make a difference in the world and social justice, fairness and equality are of the utmost importance.  These things are all at the forefront of our Jewish camp movement.  Our younger Jews do not need a special building to be able to feel God’s presence.  They do not need a particular prayer book in order to pray.  They feel God everywhere.  God is no longer a man in the sky with a long robe and a beard.  In our modern world, a distant God who lives in heaven will no longer do.  This distant God is being replaced by a more intimate, spiritual God. God is in a sunset, a rainbow, an ocean wave, a baby’s cry.  God is present in our joy and in our suffering. God is essence…..God is energy….God is beauty…God is love….God is healing…God is strength….God IS!  Dr. Bass states that the only God that makes sense today is a God of compassion and empathy who shares the life of the world.  

God is truly everywhere.  God is in each one of us.  God is here, with all of us, in our world…we need only look around to see it.  Amen.

I will be continuing this discussion of God and spirituality at our congregational Torah study.  These are some of the questions we will discuss:

Are you “spiritual” or “religious” and how do you define these two terms?  How and why do you pray? How do you personally see God?  How does God affect your life?  Where is God?  Do generations relate to God differently?  If so, why?  I invite you to consider these questions and feel free to share your feelings privately or in community.  These are questions that need to be answered by each of us in order for us to continue on our most fulfilling religious or spiritual journey.  

Purim: A Chance to Let Loose

February 23, 2017| by Rabbi Linda Goldberg

Purim comes not a moment too soon, March 11-12, this year. While I always look forward to its approach as a sign that winter is nearly past, this year observing Purim seems especially relevant. It offers a fine occasion to remember our heritage, to do some good for people close to us, to do good also for those in need, and to have full-on fun. What could be more welcome in these crazy times.

Four key mitzvot (commandments) associated with Purim are well crafted to enhance the joy both for the community and for the individual.

First mitzvah is to hear the story, found in Megillat (Book of) Esther in the Bible. For sure, the meaning of the holiday is missing if we do not know or recall the story. What happened was deadly anti-Jewish forces in ancient Persia, led by a wicked advisor to a foolish king, threatened to eliminate us. But thanks to brave action from heroes (including Queen Esther and her cousin Mordecai) and well-timed help from circumstance and/or providence, we prevailed. It is a sequence that has occurred with significant variations over the years, so it resonates. And because we know that it did not always end so well for us, we rejoice thoroughly in this case when it did.

The other mitzvot are found in Esther 9:22, and they include giving gifts (generally of food) to people who are close to us, showing them that they are important to us. Also, we make sure that our elderly or sick friends, family and shut-in neighbors are not neglected and do not miss out on the rejoicing.

Next mitzvah is to give presents for the poor, so even people whom we do not know personally have their needs met as we celebrate our good fortune. My preference is to give to our local food bank, the remarkable Food Bank for Westchester. My colleague, Rabbi/Cantor Diane Rose, also posted a great suggestion to make up packets of necessary items to pass along to the homeless.

The fourth mitzvah is to rejoice, feast, and generally have a great time. In our synagogue we traditionally enjoy hotdogs and beer at our Purim celebration; and this year we will have a klezmer band playing. We also dress in costume or at least wear silly headgear.

This year to go along with the klezmer theme, my husband and I are dressing as Chasidic rebbes and are planning to dance until we drop.

In the past, I have been Vashti (Esther’s predecessor queen) as a biker chick – per the photo, being carried away by my handsome gorilla, King Kong. I’ve also been Rosie the Riveter and a personal hero, Bruce Springsteen. When dressed as Bruce, I try to chant my chapter of the Megillah as I imagine he would; otherwise I try to chant in the voice of the character whose dialog I’m reading.

While I have heard explanations for wearing costumes ranging from the metaphysical (God was hidden, so we are hidden) to the literary (dressing up is a recurrent theme in the story), I think it’s just fun to hide your everyday self in a costume and have a good time.

I hope you are inspired to enjoy a wonderful holiday this year, showing gratitude for our blessings by being joyful and making others happy too. Please include your favorite customs and practices in your comments and show us your photos.
Chag Purim sameach! Happy holiday of Purim!

Rabbi Linda Goldberg

Rabbi Linda’s passion is helping Jews and interfaith families of all backgrounds and interests enhance their lives with Judaism. She is an independent rabbi, serving individuals as opposed to a congregation; and she did her research project on Jews who are not members of synagogues in order to serve them better and make their experience an important positive one.

 

Born and brought up in New Bedford, MA, Linda was an active student of Judaism from an early age. She was president of the New England Region of Young Judaea and represented them in the year-long Institute for Youth Leaders from Abroad in Israel.

 

A graduate of Wellesley College, Linda had a long, successful business career, starting as a computer programmer in the mid-1960s. She worked 26 years at IBM, co-founded an executive consulting firm, and served as CEO of a managed care company.

 

But what Linda most wanted was to be a rabbi. So after 15 years of studying with several significant rabbis in the New York area and teaching adult and youth students, Linda was educated and ordained at Jewish Spiritual Leaders Institute (JSLI).

 

Based in Westchester County, NY, Rabbi Linda travels to officiate life cycle events throughout the United States (as for a baby naming in Los Angeles) and abroad (as for a wedding in Cape Town). Whether meeting with a couple or family in person, by phone or video chat, Rabbi Linda loves working with them to create a highly personalized, meaningful experience and bringing them closer to their own unique Judaism.

Festivals of light, now more than ever

December 16, 2016 by Rabbi Deborah Reichmann

Festivals of light, now more than ever

I was going to start with a tirade. Railing against the hatred and intolerance I see spewing from all sides. Bemoaning the sorry state of the world. I won’t. It’s not that these things aren’t happening, but ranting won’t make it better. In fact, studies show that venting can add to depression, isolate individuals and make for a bleaker outlook.

There is enough dark right now just because our days are short, and the sun is weak (in the Northern hemisphere). Our traditions, our cultures and especially our religions know this about this time of year. That is part of why we all celebrate something during these dark days.

On December 24, after sundown, the eight day Jewish Festival of Chanukah begins:
We light the first Chanukah candle.
We celebrate the memory of the rededication of the Temple in Jerusalem in the 2nd Century BCE.
We celebrate the unlikely victory of a small group of Jewish rebels against a mighty Greek army.
We share the stories of the Macabees and eat latkes and spin dreidels.
We revel in the warmth of our traditions and the warmth of family and friends.

This year, with Christmas eve coinciding with Chanukah we have an opportunity to add to our joy. Christmas, Chanukah, Kwanzaa, and other winter festivals are not in competition with each other, but an acknowledgement of humanity’s search for universal love. In the middle of the darkest days of winter we all seek the light, both literally and metaphorically. The short days make the candles seem brighter and the lights on the trees more magical. The festive colors and sweet smells add brightness to all our lives. We come together to celebrate life, to celebrate community, to celebrate the triumph of light over dark.

From a Jewish Universalist point of view, the traditions of Chanukah are an invitation to all, to Jews and non-Jews, to join together in praising the values of perseverance, dedication and the sanctity of life. This is the season to open doors and share our holidays with our neighbors and wrap ourselves in the warm comfort of friendship and family. The world is full of strife, as it is always. Perhaps this year seems darker than most, perhaps not. But, each chanukah candle is a rallying cry to seek the good in all people. With each flame we promise to do better ourselves. The ultimate Chanukah gift we can give each other is our dedication to improve this world and make it better for our children and grandchildren. We can be the light in these dark days.

Finding Unity in Faith

By Rabbi Diane Rose | November 10, 2016

Whether you wore a hat with an H or one that ordered you to make America great again,

Whether you are pro-choice or pro-life,

Whether you live in rural Texas or urban Los Angeles,

There is one thing we can all agree on…

This country is divided.

People wept at the thought of their candidate losing, or maybe more to the point, at the thought of the opposition winning, unable to imagine how the people of their country could possibly elect the other.  In the backs of some minds, we wondered if the sun would even still rise if our candidate didn’t win.

I can relate. I was one of them.

But the sun did rise, and it rose for ALL of us.  Children got ready to learn and teachers got ready to teach.  Hurrying parents ran out the door with coffee cups and toast in their hands. Restaurant deliveries were made and babies were born, in red states and blue.

Whether your candidate won or lost, your world kept going.

When we feel disoriented in a divided country, a divided community, or a divided home, it’s essential to find places to come together and find peace, even if it’s just for a moment. You might find it in a yoga class, a book club, a card game, or a spiritual community, but I hope you find it somewhere.

I find this comfort in my spiritual community.  Now, spiritual institutions aren’t always without their own personal struggles. Goodness knows we have all experienced communities that are suffering with some sort of divide of their own.  But religious communities should be a place to get away from all that.  They should be caring and supportive even when the going gets tough.
They should be where we go to come and leave our worries at the door… A place to be lifted when you are down, and a place to lift others when you are up.

Wanting this ideal spiritual center to exist is why I became a Rabbi with JSLI and why I am now part of the UJUC and call myself a Universalist Rabbi.  I didn’t want to be a part of a movement that constantly points the finger at another with disapproval.  I didn’t want to be a Rabbi required by my movement to act or love or preach in a certain way.  I didn’t want to be told what I or my community should or should not believe.  I didn’t want to be told what my non-Jewish members could or could not do… And that is the heart of Jewish Universalism.

The UJUC website says:

JU believes all paths to the divine are equally Holy and that one’s religion is not the sole and exclusive source of truth.

JU believes Judaism is a constantly evolving spiritual practice.

JU asserts that all people who follow the dictate to love your neighbor as yourself are “chosen.”

JU embraces Interfaith Families and unconditionally welcomes all people to participate in our Jewish worship and rituals.
In other words, come as you are.  We will meet you where you are, and you will be embraced.

So, whether your candidate won or lost last night, I hope you can find a safe place to navigate this divided country of ours. Let’s create safe environments for ALL of us to share and rejoice and weep where no belief is understood as “the chosen one” whether religious or political. If nowhere else on this planet of ours, let’s be together in our churches, synagogues and mosques, with an eye toward the future, an eye toward peace, and a helping hand for those who need us.