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Yom Rivii, 1 Elul 5774

Note: The opinions expressed here are solely those of each individual blogger and do not necessarily represent the views of TRT.

Rabbi Don Weber

August 2014

"Rabbi, do you believe in the Bible or in science?"

After years of our students asking me questions on everything from why people die to what I like about cats, this year nine students asked me this question about science and the Bible. Nine!

What’s going on here? Why the sudden interest from our students about which “side” I’m on? More important, where did they get the idea that there are “sides” in the first place – that this question has a black-and-white answer?

Maybe in today’s increasingly polarized atmosphere we should expect it. Television, news media and internet blogs share left-wing opinions that “religion is for ignorant fools” and right-wing claims that “science is a liberal conspiracy.” There is no room for compromise, for nuance. The question today is simple: Which side are you on?

Do I believe in the Bible, or in science? I believe in both. I know that to some, this is a cop-out, a wishy-washy refusal to take a stand. But it is not a cop-out, and not wishy-washy: it is the essence of who I am as a Reform Jew.

My rabbinic school professor, Dr. Kravitz, taught us, “Science is about true and false. Religion is about good and bad. You do not get facts from religion, and you do not get values from science.”

Dr. Kravitz would continue, “Zyklon B gas, used in the Nazi gas chambers to murder millions of people, is true. It exists. Scientists invented it to fulfill a function. It did what it was supposed to do.

“Religion, not science, attempts to put values on what we do, and what we create. What was done with Zyklon B gas was wrong. It was evil. It was bad.

For nearly two hundred years, Reform Jews have tried to synthesize truth and goodness. We take a critical look at the Bible and Jewish law, and at times we decide that the practices they put forth are “entirely foreign to our present mental and spiritual state” (Pittsburgh Platform, 1885). But we also take a critical look at modern society, and much of our movement’s focus on Tikkun Olam – repairing the world – is a stand against the inhumanity of unregulated capitalism in which some people rise and others fall. And we take a stand against the “gossip industry” which thrives on the private lives and private troubles of others. As reformers, the verb that is part of our identity, we make the radical statements that not everything that is “religious” is good, and not everything that is “true” is good, either.

When I answer the Bible/science question, I ask the students if it’s okay to say something hurtful or embarrassing about another person. Most say it is not. “But what if what you are saying is true?” I ask. “What if your best friend just told you that her parents lost their jobs, and they are being evicted from their home? Is it okay for you to tell your other friends? After all, what you are saying is absolutely true, isn’t it?”

Some of them say it is all right to share the information, since it’s true. Then I suggest they imagine the same situation, but this time they are the ones who are losing their home. Now is it okay for your best friend to share this news with everyone he knows?

“Ohmygodno” is the unanimous response.

“That which is hateful to you, do not do to another person,” I remind them. That’s how Rabbi Hillel summed up all of Judaism, and by extension, all religion. It’s important to know what is true, but it is just as important to think about what is good.

We Reform Jews have the chutzpah to insist that our lives in temple and outside of temple not contradict each other. We fully embrace the technology which makes pushing an elevator button less work than climbing 14 flights of stairs on Shabbat, and at the very same time we fully embrace the idea that religion, not science, can guide us to live ethical, caring, passionate lives – lives which value goodness above all.

So yes, I believe in science. And in the Bible. It might be simpler to believe in only one of them, but I can’t do that. I’m a Reform Jew.

Shira joins me in wishing you an early Shana Tova – a year filled with good.

                                                                                                                   

                                                                                                            Rabbi Don Weber

Rabbi Don Weber

August 2014

A Letter About Israel

Dear Temple Members and Friends,

One of the realities of vacation in the 21st century is that no one is ever disconnected from the world anymore. This summer, as Shira and I have taken time away together, we are reminded daily – even hourly – of the situation in Israel.

There is a lot of noise out there, and I don’t wish to add to it. In my sermon on Yom Kippur I hope to share my thoughts about what it all means, and I pray that long before that we will see an end to the violence. But right now, as Hamas violated the ceasefire to which it agreed and invaded Israel not 90 minutes after the ceasefire began, I feel I need to reach out to you.

Sitting 6,000 miles away, the most important question we can ask is, “What can we do to help that will really make a difference?” I have three suggestions, all of which are concrete actions we can take today.

 

FIRST: In a Congress that doesn’t appear able to agree on what time of day it is, a near-unanimous vote in both houses resulted in hundreds of millions of dollars in new funding for the Iron Dome defense system. Given that those missiles cost almost $100,000 each, this is a tremendous accomplishment. President Obama, too, has been a strong supporter of Iron Dome since he became president, and without that support I shudder to think where Israel would be right now. So right now – right now – please sit down and write an email to our two Senators, Menendez and Booker, and to your Representative, who is either Pallone, Holt or Smith. Thank them for voting to support the Iron Dome Missile Defense System, and tell them how much it means to you personally that they did.

 

Go to http://www.contactingthecongress.org/ and skip everything except your zip code +4, and you will get a link to each of your Congressmen’s email. You can send the same letter to each, but please be sure to change their names! To email President Obama, go to http://www.whitehouse.gov/contact/submit-questions-and-comments and send your email through that site.

 

SECOND: The Jewish Federation of Monmouth is raising funds to send directly to those most affected in Israel – the families of the soldiers killed and wounded, and those forced out of their homes by the war. Please contribute NOW, at https://salsa3.salsalabs.com/o/51069/p/salsa/donation/common/public/?donate_page_KEY=11180.

 

THIRD: Do you have family in Israel? Friends? The guide who led you on your Israel trip a year ago, or ten years ago? I know you think they are swamped with emails from all over the world, but they aren’t. It will mean more than I can say if you take two minutes and drop them a line, via email or Facebook: “I’m thinking of you. I hope you and your family are safe, and I hope Israel will overcome this threat to its existence quickly. Please, when you have a minute, drop me a line to tell me how you are doing. Thank you, and love…”

 

If you ever went to Israel with Shira and me, the office has the email addresses for our guides. Just tell them whether your guide was Ronnie Macarov, Arie Harel or Chana Estrin and they will give you the information. However you do it, please do it.

 

The situation in Israel is a microcosm of radical changes taking place around the world. It would be easy to say there is nothing an individual can do, and certainly none of us can change the whole world by ourselves. But I have always believed that we can change some of the world, and make things a little better, and for me, that has always been enough. As the Mishna says, “It is not your responsibility to finish the work, but you are not free to ignore it.”

 

Let’s get to work. Sha’alu shalom Yerushalayim, pray for the peace of Jerusalem.

 

With love,

 

Rabbi Don Weber

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

My Rabbi Died This Week

June 2014

I have been fortunate – blessed, actually – to have had many rabbis in my life. I don’t just mean someone who is a rabbi, but someone who has been rabi u-mori, my rabbi and my teacher. That’s actually the highest compliment I can give someone, and I count at least a half-dozen people whom I think about that way, including Shira. Each of them has changed my life, helped me to grow and helped me to understand – not just once, but time and time again.

"Kadima" ("Onward")

June 2014

NEWSLETTER ARTICLE JUNE/JULY 2014

In June, 1984, I became the rabbi of Temple Rodeph Torah. At the time we were meeting in the “cafetorium” of the Asher Holmes School in Morganville, Bar and Bat Mitzvah services were held wherever we could find a place, and 66 families made up the entire TRT community. Temple leaders, unable to figure out how to budget for a rabbi’s salary, put out a request for a rabbi to work “two-thirds time.”

 

At my first interview I shared my suspicion that “two-thirds time” probably meant full-time work at two-thirds pay – unless they thought it would be a good idea for me to work part-time at Pathmark on the side (remember Pathmark?). Sheepishly, they admitted I was right. And I took the offer.

The Son Who Doesn't Know Enough to Ask

April 2014

NEWSLETTER ARTICLE APRIL/MAY 2014

From Rabbi Weber

Here’s a bad, old Jewish joke:

 Eleven-year old David comes home from school and says, “Guess what, mom – I got a role in the school play!”

 “That’s wonderful!” his mother says. “What part did they give you?

“I’m the Jewish husband,” answers David.

“Young man, you march right back there and tell them that’s no good – you want a speaking part!”

Say NO to Academic Boycott of Israel

January 2014

Newsletter Article February/March 2014

NOTE:  For the list of colleges and universities that have publically rejected the ASA boycott, click here.

FROM RABBI WEBER

 Not everything bad that happens to Jews is anti-Semitic. But some things are.

 In December, the American Studies Association called for an academic boycott of Israel, asking universities to cut off relations with Israeli scholars and universities to protest the Palestinian situation.

 According to the New York Times:

The American Studies Association has never before called for an academic boycott of any nation’s universities, said Curtis Marez, the group’s president… He did not dispute that many nations, including many of Israel’s neighbors, are generally judged to have human rights records that are worse than Israel’s, or comparable, but he said, “one has to start somewhere.”

Know When to Hold 'Em, Know When to Fold 'Em

December 2013

Benayim, January 2014

From Rabbi Weber

Once a year, for our anniversary, Shira and I go to Atlantic City. Since our anniversary is in March and our day off is Tuesday, we get a very nice hotel room for almost nothing. We make up for the discount room with a dinner for two in one of the really excellent restaurants which dot the casino hotels.

 

After dinner, we head to Shira’s favorite: the video poker machines. Big spenders that we are, we go for the quarter-slots. Even there, we set out a specific amount of money we are going to play with. Most often that sum lasts long enough to provide our entertainment for the evening. Once in a while we agree to put in a little more because the money disappeared more quickly than expected. Even more rarely we walk away with enough to cover our dinner. Bottom line, if Atlantic City is depending on us to stay solvent, it’s in deep trouble.

Even More Passion & Joy

December 2013

Newsletter Article December 2013/January 2014

From Rabbi Weber

 

I had a wonderful time this fall, meeting with so many people – members and non-members – who wanted to explore their “passion and joy” in Jewish life. Some of you have started projects at TRT, others are now out working in the community. In every case I was moved by the emotional attachment you have to Jewish life, even if they do not yet know how to turn their passion into joyful action. If you haven’t yet called to talk with me, I hope you will; the invitation is still good!

Thanksgivukkah, Christmas and the Jews

November 2013

Benayim, November 2013

FROM RABBI WEBER

 

By now you have heard that Hanukkah comes very, VERY early this year – as in, it overlaps with Thanksgiving for the first time. Don’t get used to it; it won’t happen again for over 70,000 years (yes, that number is correct).

 

As I write this in early October, the first “Thanksgivukkah” web sites are already popping up, so I’ll leave it to the comedians to explore the joy of eating stuffing and latkes on the same day. What I want to talk about is what happens later – when Hanukkah is over.

A Passionate Plea for Gun Control

November 2013

Note from Rabbi Weber: Dana Starfield (Chodos), who grew up at Temple Rodeph Torah, was at the security checkpoint in the same terminal at LAX when the gunman killed the TSA agent and injured others.  Her thoughts are worth reading and taking to heart.

GUARDIANS OF THE BOOM
Dana Starfield, November 2013

It was 9am on Friday and I’d just reached the TSA checkpoint at the top of the escalator when I congratulated myself for being on time for the first time in my life.  For the first time I had time to look around, admire the art installation in the terminal.  Was it new?  Why hadn’t I noticed it before?  Scores of sculpted papers gracefully suspended in air appeared to be a flock of doves ushering travelers off, inviting us to join them in flight.

Going to Israel? Some things to be afraid of

October 2013

NEWSLETTER ARTICLE OCTOBER/NOVEMBER 2013

From Rabbi Weber

You were in ISRAEL this summer? Weren’t you scared?

 

On the last day of our recent Rodeph Torah/Jewish Federation trip to Israel, I told our group that they would be asked this question again and again when they returned home. To prepare them for the inevitable, I asked everyone to tell me what they were scared about during our 11-day journey through the Galilee, the Golan Heights, Tel Aviv, the Negev, the Dead Sea, and of course, Jerusalem. Here are their responses:

  • I was scared I would run out of money on our shopping trips.
  • I was scared I would explode from over-eating.
  • I was scared my wife would insist on buying a condo here before we left.
  • I was scared I would be the first person not to float in the Dead Sea.
  • I was scared our luggage would never arrive (long story, but it did – eventually).
  • I was scared I wouldn’t survive the taxi ride in Jerusalem.
  • I was scared the trip would end.

Hobby Lobby and the Jews

September 2013

Freedom is messy. From the American Nazi Party marching in Skokie, Illinois, to the myriad web sites promoting hatred of [insert the name of any religious, racial or political group here], freedom is something we all cherish… until we are on the receiving end of someone else’s freedom.

Witness the flurry of discussion in and around Marlboro, where it was discovered that the newly-opened Hobby Lobby does not, out of principle, stock items relating to Jewish holidays or Judaism in general. Various callers to the store management and to the company’s headquarters have reported responses indicating that the company is a Christian-owned company, and “these are our values.”

Praying At The Wall

August 2013

Benayim, September 2013

 

JERUSALEM, August 7, 2013 – Elul 1, 5773

I prayed at the Kotel (the Western Wall) today. That may not seem like a big thing for someone who has spent over a year of his life in Jerusalem, but it was actually the first time I’ve ever prayed at the Wall.

I’ve been to the Wall many times. I appreciate its history, and I understand the sacred connection to the Temple which once stood on that spot. But I could never pray there, no matter how hard I tried.

 

We Are Passion & Joy

July 2013

Newletter Article August/September 2013

If you were part of our community last Yom Kippur, you witnessed something truly amazing: an entire congregation filled with the spirit of God.

On Yom Kippur morning I asked everyone to count our blessings, and to take the gratitude we feel and turn it into food for the hungry. I asked you to go out – on Yom Kippur Day! – and buy food for our food drive, even if you had already brought some. I asked you to buy lots of food; what I actually said was, “go buy too much food,” and bring it back before the day ends.

 

Your Opinion Matters

June 2013

Newsletter Article June/July 2013

When the President of the UCLA Health System began his job, his hospital had an 85% approval rating – the highest of any comparable hospital. But his take on that number was that 15% of UCLA patients had a bad experience, and he took no comfort in knowing that other hospitals fared worse. UCLA was, in his words, “the cream of the crap.”

Dr. Feinberg set out to fix the problem, and he did it by going into every one of hundreds of hospital rooms and asking two questions:

-          On a scale of 1 to 10, how would you rate your entire experience in this hospital, and why?

-          Would you recommend this hospital to your family and friends? Why or why not?


 

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