Monday, December 20, 2010

Parashat Shemot - My commentary for Jewish Federations of North America

Parashat Shemote
Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld
Temple Beth Zion, Buffalo, New York
There is no more appropriate way to start the story of our meta story than with the name of this week’s parasha and thus the whole book of Exodus, Shemot - Names. Our story of salvation, first from famine in Canaan, then from slavery in Egypt, to the blessing of the Sinaitic revelation and finally settling in the Promised Land, begins and ends with names.
But they are not just any names. They are the names of the great and not so great. Judah and Joseph, Moses, Aaron and Joshua are intertwined with Gad, Zevulun, Noa and Milka and it is this that makes the Torah and the Tanach resonate with me. The great people and the “regular folk” are intertwined just as they are in our communities today. For me, this makes our sacred text real.
We all know names are important. From the earliest age we respond when we hear our name. We are called to Torah by our names and we are buried with them. Through all of the blessings of our lives and through all the challenging and painful times we carry our names with us.
So it is perplexing to me that in our day and age in our tefillot, our services we seem to only focus on names during the challenging and painful times. For centuries we have read longer and longer lists of the deceased. In more modern times we call out the names of sick and ask for blessing and healing for them. It almost as if the the only reason to come to shul is to deal with pain.
We do celebrate major occasions - namings, upcoming weddings, B’nei Mitzvah and in some shuls birthdays and anniversaries. But why, with a few exceptions don’t we ask people to share the “regular” joys in their lives - a child receiving a good grade, a promotion, hearing from a friend after a long absence, recovery from illness...? Our tradition has blessings for occasions like these and so many others, why do we not emphasize these personal joys? If remembering our beloved deceased with our community brings comfort and if praying for the healing of our ill brings some peace, how much the more so would celebrating our joys and accomplishments add to those positive feelings.
I am as guilty as any other rabbi about this but I am committing myself to changing the services I lead and asking people to share their names and their blessings. It will not be easy or quick. It took time before people were ready to share their hard times publicly, and some still are not. It will take time for people to be willing to share their joys. But think of the change it could bring our lives and our services.
The Jewish Federations of North America Rabbinic Cabinet
Cabinet Chair: Rabbi Steven E. Foster
Vice Chair: Rabbi Stuart Weinblatt
Vice Chair Rabbi Les Bronstein
Vice Chair: Rabbi Fred Klein
Vice Chair: Rabbi Larry Kotok
President: Rabbi Jonathan Schnitzer
Honorary Chair: Rabbi Matthew H. Simon

Director of the Rabbinic Cabinet: Rabbi Gerald Weider

Friday, December 3, 2010

Moving to Congregation Albert


As you may have heard I have been offered and accepted the position of Rabbi at Congregation Albert in Albuquerque, New Mexico. For me it has been a very difficult decision between accepting a wonderful opportunity and the thought of leaving so many of you to whom I feel so close. However, now it is time for me to move on to a new stage in life and so I will end my tenure as your Senior Rabbi this coming June. I have never been one to leave friends behind and hope that we will remain a part of each other’s lives and that we will be able to stay in touch.

My 10 plus years as the rabbi at Temple Beth Zion, as your rabbi, have been and always will be precious to me. We have celebrated together, cried together, held each other up, studied, prayed and played together. When I first came to Buffalo my stated goal was to continue the transformation of Temple Beth Zion into Congregation Beth Zion and ultimately into the Community of Beth Zion. I firmly believe that together we have moved closer to that goal.

TBZ is a community with unlimited potential. A congregation exists because people come together to support and care for each other. In my 10 1/2 years as your rabbi I have seen you do this over and over. Together we have educated our children and helped them develop a solid, positive Jewish identity. Together, during 11 Mitzvah Days we have made our community a better place. Together we have become a congregation that continues learning to sing and pray together. In short, we have worked to fulfill our mission. The work is not yet complete but I have full faith that you will continue this work and come closer to fulfilling the mission.

Over the years, as people have left Western New York and TBZ to live elsewhere, I have always told them that once a member of the TBZ family, always a member. I believed it when I said those words but now that they apply to me, I understand their depth. You, the membership of Temple Beth Zion will always be in my heart and I hope that you will keep some small place in yours for me.

Shalom uv’racha,

Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld

Saturday, June 12, 2010

2010/5770 Report To The Congregation

The Torah portions from 2 weeks ago and last week tell different stories of leadership.

Last week, in Shelach, 12 Israelite leaders are sent to scout the Promised Land. Each comes back raving about the lushness of the land, the bounty of the harvest and carrying bunches of grapes so large that it took two men to carry each one. But 10 of the 12 scouts also come back afraid and spread their fear throughout the community. The Israelites acted like all those who are afraid, they froze and refused to enter the Promised Land and they wanted to flee back to Egypt. Only Joshua and Caleb saw potential and hope. They were realistic about the challenges ahead AND wanted to proceed forward with vision, faith and of course a plan. Ultimately, the rest of the Israelites who acted out of fear were condemned to die in the desert. Only Joshua and Caleb survived the 40 years of wandering and ultimately received the blessing and reward of entering the Promised Land. We learn from this story, that realistically facing our challenges and our fears engenders the possibility of reaching goals beyond our wildest dreams.

Two weeks ago, in B’ha’alot’cha, Joshua comes running to Moses upset that 2 Israelites, Eldad and Medad, were prophesying in the camp. He said: “My lord Moses, shut them up”. Moses replied: “Are you jealous for my sake? Would that all God’s people were prophets!” We learn from this story that Moses was the wisest of prophets. He understood that his leadership was not challenged by others who prophesied but just the opposite! When a people is infused with passion there is no limit to the greatness they can achieve. In fact, Moses laments that more people were not moved to prophesy.

As a congregation, as a community, these past few weeks have shown us our strength. Everyone, including me, was tempted to give into allowing our fear to drive us.  But we did not succumb. We found a way to reach beyond the fear and emulate Moses and embrace the powerful energy generated.

This outpouring of passion, commitment and leadership did not surprise me but I was overwhelmed and humbled by the depth of it. I was not surprised because I have seen it many times in the past 10 years. When I first arrived 10 years ago and we were able to heal from the deepest of wounds; As Mitzvah Day grew and encompassed communities disparate from our own; As I watched my dream of this becoming a truly caring community flourish as dozens of congregants reach out to hundreds of members who have faced pain and reveled in simcha; How when the Jewish community looks for its leadership, the first place it looks is to us; How when the crash of flight 3407 threatened to suck the life force from our community and our sister congregation Temple Beth Am, the community turned to us; As I stood on the Bema at Beth Am that Friday night I saw you in the seats, comforting another congregational family who had lost their beloved cantor, Susan Wehle; As I stood at the crash site that weekend watching them recover body after body my cell phone rang and rang and rang as you called to see what you could do to help the survivors and the first responders; at all those times and countless others, we were there, infused with spirit and each standing together as leaders, uniting when so many other communities would have run in fear or fought about who was greater and more deserving.

Now here we stand again. Where others would split apart like the Red Sea before the Israelites, we rush together to face our fears and our challenges overpowering them as the waters of the Red Sea overcame the Egyptians and saved our ancestors.

Tonight we gather together not in fear of splitting apart but challenged by how to use this incredible commitment to and passion for TBZ to confront the real issues facing our community: a shrinking Western New York Jewish community, the still divisive city/suburban split, and the increasing demands of life that clamor to take up our every waking moment.

While daunting, these challenges will not overwhelm us. I am blessed to have with me an incredible Judaic team, our new Assistant Rabbi Laurie Green who is brimming with wonderful ideas, our Cantorial Intern Penny Myers who prays and teaches with a sincerity that is all too rare and our educator Susan Goldberg Pardo who inspires us and pushes us to strive for excellence. With the administrative support of Mark Criden and his staff at our side, Rabbi Green, Cantorial Intern Myers, Susan Pardo and I have committed ourselves to a plan that can, together with you and the energy you bring here tonight, not only face our challenges head-on, but take TBZ to great new places beyond the horizon of our vision.

First: All of our doors, mine especially, are open to you, to listen to you, to offer you spiritual guidance and support. I take incredible pride that the 4 of us are NOT the distant, remote rabbis satirized in the movie “A Serious Man”. Call me, write me, email me, IM or Facebook me.

Yet, it is not enough that our doors are open to you. The four of us are setting for ourselves an ambitious initial goal. Between now and October, we want to meet with at least 100 members to listen to and to learn from you. We will not ask you pedantic questions like what kind of programming do you want or what would make services more meaningful for you. Rather we will ask you to honor us by sharing your stories, your hopes, your dreams, and your reasons for being a part of TBZ. In all that we do, we need to transform from a place where inclusivity means our doors are open to all but we wait for you to come to us, into a community that understands that inclusivity means we also have to come to you. We will not stop with the first 100 but will continue this effort until we have reached as many of you as possible in the coming years.

Second: The ancient rabbis taught that each home should be a Mikdash Me’at - a microcosm of the Temple in Jerusalem, a place of safety, warmth, compassion and positive values. Much of my teaching and programming over the next year will focus on helping you transform your home into a more sacred place and reaching out beyond TBZ to those who need our help to find a home that one day they can transform into a Mikdash Me’at. We will also be looking internally to see how our TBZ home can be more of a Mikdash Me’at - a place of safety, warmth, compassion and postivie values. Here is a 9-point definition of what I hope to help you create.

 “How to Construct A Mikdash Me'At mikdash me'at” by Ozzie Nogg 
1. To transform the home into sanctuary what you have is not as important as how you behave. 
2. To qualify as a mikdash me'at, a home must be a place of safety, comfort and refuge, where the hungry find food, the weary find rest and the stranger finds warmth and welcome. In order to be a true mikdash me'at, a home must be a place where many voices are allowed to sing - in harmony or in disagreement.
3. When erecting a mikdash me'at, place it on a solid foundation of compassion, generosity, humility and positive values. Trust and the ability to forgive are also critical building blocks.
4. To make a home a mikdash me'at you must take nothing for granted. When you rise up, give thanks for the new day and the opportunities it brings. When you lie down, give thanks for the day that is past and the lessons it taught you.
5. A mikdash me'at is built on respect - for spouses, partners, parents and children. In a little sanctuary there must also be respect for the people who work in the home. Pay them fairly. Treat them kindly.
6. Remember. Hospitality is as important as divine worship. In a mikdash me'at, food is happily shared with others. At the table, speak words of wisdom and support. Do not gossip. Even if you are alone, be not distracted by television during meals.
7. To qualify as a mikdash me'at, a home must be a place where each family member is appreciated, considered special, and encouraged to grow and learn in different ways. Listen to others with an open heart.
8. To be approved as a certified mikdash me'at, a home must be insulated against rough weather with a protective layer of peace - shalom bayit - if not every day, then surely on Shabbat. On this one day, at least, you must shut out the stress and cares of the world. Replace tension and argument with words of sweetness and love.
9. When building a mikdash me'at, begin now, and proceed with joy.

Third: Across the American Jewish community people are asking: “Where are the men?” This year I will be hosting a new group aimed at men: “Drash and Draught” - a men’s study group which will look at ways Judaism teaches us, in the words of Rabbi Dan Polish, to “Mentch Up”. 

Fourth: Also in the realm of outreach - I have invited the Jewish Outreach Institute to come to TBZ to work with our entire staff and others to teach us how to be even more open, welcoming and inclusive than we all ready are. They will also be evaluating our written and electronic materials and presence on the web. JOI has worked with dozens of congregations to help them fulfill Isaiah’s vision, which is our vision: “My house shall be a house of prayer for all peoples.”

The first of our program initiatives from JOI will be the implementation of a Grandparents Circle. This program, which will be led by our member and teacher Marcia Valente, is designed to help grandparents be a positive Jewish presence for their grandchildren, WITHOUT impinging on their children’s perogotive as parents.

Fifth: Celebration - On July 17, 1810 the first Reform service was held in Germany. That means this summer on the Shabbat of July 16th and 17th, we celebrate the 200th anniversary of the beginning of Reform Judaism. Rabbi Green and Cantorial Intern Myers will mark the occasion at services that Shabbat and throughout the year we will focus on this anniversary. As a part of observing this milestone, I will be teaching a class on Reform Judaism at Temple Beth Tzedek and Rabbi Perry Netter from Beth Tzedek will teach a class on Conservative Judaism at TBZ. Rabbi Netter and I are committed to deepening the connection between our congregations, the oldest and strongest in Western New York.

In addition, 2010 marks the 100th anniversary of our Women of Reform Judaism/Sisterhood. With everything Sisterhood has done to support and enhance our congregation one might even think it existed before the congregation. This year we will not only celebrate Sisterhood’s history of commitment to TBZ but also thank them for their ongoing vision and support as they are providing us with the resources to renovate the Sisterhood Chapel into a modern, even more spiritual worship space.

And Sixth: As the board resolution says, we want to involve more of you in the planning and decision making here at TBZ. In his commentary on this week’s Torah portion, Korach, my teacher Rabbi Herb Bronstein writes: “synagogue affiliation has two modes: Taking and giving... In our own lives we have to ask: ‘Are we takers or givers?’” That you are committed to TBZ and its future is evidenced not just by your presence here but that you are members of our congregational family. In most congregations, after the last child becomes Bar or Bat Mitzvah a large number of households quit the temple. Not at TBZ. Our members, you, are not simply takers, using our services and then leaving the rest of us behind. TBZ is a special place. You stay and you give so that others can come and stay as well. You know you own this congregation. Be like Eldad and Medad. Continue to make your voices heard in ways that will help TBZ remain the Jewish light of Western New York and be able to shine its light even further and brighter.

Finally, if any of you think we should fear our future or that the challenges are too daunting, look around this room. As the prophet Joel says in chapter 3 verse 1:

 וְהָיָה אַחֲרֵי־כֵן אֶשְׁפּוֹךְ אֶת־רוּחִי עַל־כָּל־בָּשָׂר וְנִבְּאוּ בְּנֵיכֶם וּבְנֹתֵיכֶם, זִקְנֵיכֶם חֲלֹמוֹת יַחֲלֹמוּן, בַּחוּרֵיכֶם חֶזְיֹנוֹת יִרְאוּ
It shall come to pass that I will pour my spirit on all living beings and your sons and daughters shall prophesy and your old shall dream dreams and your youth shall see visions.

We dream our dreams but it is our youth who will show us, who have shown us the way. If there is another congregation that could inspire its young people to stand up as they have, express their opinion so passionately and articulately and to attend an annual congregational meeting, I am not aware of it. Your presence here tonight inspires us.

And so I conclude on a personal note. The great 19th century Chassidic rebbe Menachem Mendel of Kotzk said: It is the followers who make the rabbi. Tonight, looking at all of you, I understand his words, as I never have before. Seeing our high school and college students here as well as hearing and reading their words these past few weeks, if my rabbinic career were to end at this moment, Dayeinu, it would have been enough.

But my career has not ended. Now I look forward to the continued fulfillment of my dream - to be your spiritual leader as we together over the next year raise this Temple to the greatest glory it has ever known

Let us honor our students as they have honored all of us by ensuring that Temple Beth Zion will be here for them, their children and their children’s children, henceforth and forever.

Shabbat Shalom.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Response and Remarks for Temple Beth Zion's 160th Anniversary and the First 10 Years of My Rabbinate Here

Tonight we celebrate our past, our future and our present.

Eight score years ago, our founders dreamt of forming a congregation that would represent who they were and how they wanted to worship. Twelve years later, they decided on a new path and invited Isaac Mayer Wise to send a rabbi to Buffalo who would lead a service in the “Reform tradition”. So 148 years ago, Temple Beth Zion left its original orthodox roots and became a congregation committed to adapting to its times and its community.

In Hebrew, 148 equates to the letters ק מ ח which spell the word “kemach”. Kemach literally means flour but our ancient rabbis understood that it is really much more. Kemach means sustenance, the sustenance we get from food, from our material goods and most of all, the sustenance we get from Torah. Our founders understood that for them, Temple Beth Zion would not only sustain their worship but also be the center of their social and communal life.

Our founders lived in a vastly different time than ours, a time when their goal was to acculturate into American life and be accepted by their neighbors as equals, even while being barred from the general community’s social institutions.

Throughout the years, the decades, the last century and a half, each generation of Temple Beth Zion faced its own challenges and met them with the same strength and insight of our founders. Led by wonderful, committed, 34 caring rabbis and cantors, 50 dedicated presidents and countless lay leaders, Temple Beth Zion changed and adapted to meet its time and community head on, finding positive ways to help its members negotiate being Jewish in Western New York.

In many ways, our challenge is the polar opposite of that of our founders. Fully acculturated into America, we strive to instill in ourselves and our young people what it means to be Jewish and be part of a Jewish community. We no longer live in Jewish neighborhoods. Our children often find themselves the only Jews in their class or even their grade and do not have the Jewish support network so many of us grew up knowing.

So 12 years ago, after much soul searching and planning, a decision was made to adapt our historic nursery school program, to confront our reality and reinforce the incredible base that our nursery school had created, and thus the Play and Learn School was born. Through the almost 11 years of its existence it has not only educated and brought our youngest children closer to Judaism and the Jewish community, it continues evolving to meet the changing needs of our children. Like every aspect of Temple Beth Zion before it, including our incredible nursery school, the professional and lay leadership of PALS understand that its work is not about the present, but rather ensuring the future.

A week ago, a great man died, Walter Hickel Sr. Anyone who knows me, knows there are few politicians that I like and even fewer that I respect. I liked and respected Governor Hickel. He was a man of principle. Forty years ago when he was Secretary of the Interior under President Nixon, he sent a letter to the President decrying the invasion and bombing of Cambodia and the killing of the students at Kent State. Nixon fired him and Wally Hickel returned to Alaska and in 1992 was reelected Governor. Why do I mention him this evening? Because when the congregation in Anchorage honored me for my 10 years of service there, Governor Hickel took time to be there with us. Tonight as we celebrate my 10 years here at Temple Beth Zion, he is here as well through these words of his that I try to live by and would like to share with you:

“If God didn't like big projects, he wouldn't have created the universe.

“When a man thinks he's too good to do another man's work, he neither understands work nor understands the man.

I am sick and tired of those who say life is cheap. Life is only cheap when it is not your own.

And most importantly: “Dream big dreams. Because if you dream little dreams, you can only achieve little things. But if you dream big dreams, you can achieve little things and big things.”

Our founders, and our leaders since, dreamt big dreams, achieved things little and big. Can we afford to do any less?

I know I have gone past my self allotted 5 minutes but...

Tonight we have mentioned and honored many people; our founders, our historic and current supporters, our rabbis, and our lay leadership. But there is one group of people who get little or no public kavod, public recognition. But they are represented on this Bema and in this service. My predecessors certainly gave and I do my best to give as much as possible of ourselves to this, our congregational family. Yet every evening meeting, weekend program, or class that we, our clergy partners, educators, executive directors and others who work here give to this family, is time donated to the congregation from our own families. Tonight, Rabbi Fink’s daughter, Toby Laping, Rabbi Goldberg’s wife Claire and my own wife Michele are up here representing all the family members who donated so much to you, our other family. On behalf of the Rabbis, Clergy and Professionals, thank you Toby, Claire, Michele and all those whom you represent for supporting the work we do. I would ask the rest of you to join me in honoring and thanking them as well.

Finally, thank-you to all of you who have honored me by letting me be a part of your life these past 10 years. We have shared joys and sorrow, great successes and some of the hardest of times. Each moment has been a gift you have given me.

To my team members, Ilana, Penny, Susan and Mark, Gary, David and Jackie, colleagues and the office and maintenance workers thank-you. Temple Beth Zion would be so much less without each and every one of you.

Thank-you to Reverend Tom Yorty who has been my partner and friend these 10 years just as our predecsssors at Westminster and TBZ were partners and friends. No celebration of our history could be complete without Westminster being here with us.

To Rabbi Elwell, when I showed you around HUC 30 years ago who could have imagined how our lives would intersect and that we would be together here tonight? Thank-you for representing TBZ so well through your life and work and for representing the Union and our colleagues and friends tonight. And thank-you for always being there for me when I have called upon you as a friend and colleague.

And Michele, you love me (although God knows why) you push me, challenge me and support me. Thank-you. Who could ask for anything more?

Tonight we celebrate the first 160 years of Temple Beth Zion, the first 10 years of PALS and my first 10 years at TBZ - and the best is yet to come!

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

To Israel with Temple Beth Zion and Westminster Presbyterian Church Part 8

Tuesday January 26, 2010

If I was not jet lagged and thus writing this at 4:00 AM, it would be hard to believe we are home. Our last day in Jerusalem (was it really 2 days ago on Sunday?) was so full we had to actually skip some things so people could do their final shopping!

We began our day by attending the Scottish Church service at St. Andrews in Jerusalem. St. Andrews was established in 1927 and dedicated by General Allenby who had liberated Jerusalem from the Axis Powers in WWI. We chose St. Andrews as the Presbyterian Church in the United States was born out of it in colonial times. It was a nice service. The minister's sermon spoke of Martin Luther King Jr., his faith and his spirit.

We left the church and headed to the John F. Kennedy Memorial Forest to plant olive trees (a theme I will come back to later.) The last time I planted trees with a group in Israel was with my second group from Anchorage. We went to a greenhouse, purchased fruit trees and planted them on our guide's army base as a symbol of peace as the Torah teaches (Deut. 20:19-20) that one cannot cut down fruit trees in time of war. This time was equally as meaningful as we were planting these olive trees (also a symbol of peace) just a few days before Tu B'shvat, the Jewish New Year of Trees (sort of a Jewish Arbor Day.) We knew Tu B'shvat was near not only from the calendar but because the almond trees were in bloom. Historically, the almond tree is the first tree to blossom in the Land of Israel. Today, it has competition from a plant we in Western New York are particularly familiar with, the forsythia which according to the Wikipedia article is a relative of the olive tree.

After a brief stop at Kibbutz Ramat Rachel for lunch we proceeded back to the Old City to see the Upper Room, a possible site of the Last Supper. A group was already in the Upper Room when we arrived and holding a service to reenact the Last Supper. Even without the echo in the room, their harmonies were inspiring.

Just outside the Upper Room is the supposed site of King David's Tomb. While this is possibly the least likely site of King David's burial place, I couldn't resist taking a picture of David next to the statue of King David. I don't know about you but I see an uncanny resemblance!

The last touring stop of the day was at the Garden of Gethsemane. This is a lovely site with a beautiful church. It is still an olive grove containing a 1750 year old olive tree. While the Garden of Gethsemane is an important Christian site not a part of my Jewish tradition and in fact, because of the Gospel's account of Judas's betrayal of Jesus, it is a site I associate with historic Christian anti-Judaism, it seemed to me to be the perfect last stop for our tour. There we stood, Jews and Christians, among ancient olive trees, a universal symbol for peace and wholeness at least since the Biblical story of Noah. We started our journey as separate individuals from multiple traditions and ended our journey as a united group. While at times it may have felt like we were together for 1750 years, in reality it was only 10 days. But in those 10 days each of us was enriched and transformed.

We let everyone go do their last shopping and relaxing in the ancient holy city and regathered at the hotel to walk across the street for our goodbye dinner at the most appropriately named restaurant, Olive and Fish. We had already said goodbye to M and A as they had left earlier in the day for an add on trip to Egypt and G. R. who caught an earlier flight to D.C.. The rest of us gathered with our superb guide Julie Baretz and our incredible driver, Yossi for a wonderful meal. We shared some reflections and memories, noted how long it will really take us to process everything from our trip and enjoyed some more laughs before heading to the airport and our long flight home.

At that final dinner I said some thank-you's, five of which I would like to echo here.

First to our guide Julie Baretz. I do this hesitantly because I'm afraid if I say too much everyone will want to have her guide them and she won't be available for us next time. I requested Julie to be our guide for this trip for two reasons. One, she guided our last trip and was incredible. Two, she specializes in guiding Christian groups as well as Jewish groups. We were her first real interfaith group and as wonderful as she was on our last trip, she truly outdid herself! Her sensitivity to both faiths and her ability to integrate and combine information, sites and us exceeded my already high expectations.

Second, Rev. Tom and Carol Yorty. We have known each other and worked together since my arrival in Buffalo in 2000. I knew them as wise, kind, caring and sensitive people. But you never really know how you will relate to someone on this kind of whirlwind trip until it happens. Again, my high expectations were exceeded. There are really no words to express just how much they added not only to the group experience but to my personal experience as well. From colleagues and acquaintances before the trip, I now feel them as partners, friends and counsels. They don't come any better than Tom and Carol.

Third, Rabbi Shira Joseph. When Jeff from Ayelet Tours told me that there was a rabbi who was going to Israel for part of her sabbatical and wanted to experience our interfaith trip, as I later told her, I thought she was crazy. A day or two perhaps but the whole trip? I glad beyond words that Shira joined us. Her gentle way kept inspiring me to do better. She was there as extra help when asked and while she came to learn from us, she was a great teacher to me. I gained a new colleague and friend.

Fourth a huge thank-you to Michele. I work hard on these trips and am not as available as I should be. Thank-you for your patience, understanding and keeping me steady.

Finally the group itself. Without you this trip would not have been possible. But more, each of you individually and as a group made the trip the incredible experience it became. We all had our quirks but each of those quirks added to the whole experience and made it unique. In Hebrew the word for "holy" is Kadosh which implies unique and special. That is what you became, Kadosh, a holy congregation of Jews and Christians. What more could anyone ask?

שלום וברכה - Shalom uv'racha - Peace and blessings upon you all, Jerusalem, Israel and our world,

Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld

Saturday, January 23, 2010

To Israel with Temple Beth Zion and Westminster Presbyterian Church Part 7

January 23, 2010

Shabbat in Jerusalem - what else can one say?

Shavuah Tov!

Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld

To Israel with Temple Beth Zion and Westminster Presbyterian Church Part 6

January 22, 2010

We left Jerusalem very early this morning for our day trip to the Dead Sea. Upon reaching the Dead Sea, we could see evidence of flash floods that had crossed the road days before. This is normal for winter in Israel. When the rains come the ground is often hard and dry and cannot absorb much water so it gathers in the normally dry river beds and heads to the Sea of Galilee and Jordan River, the Mediterranean and the Dead Sea.

Masada has changed for me over the years as it has for many Israelis. The message of the brave soldiers choosing death and suicide for themselves and their wives and children rather than slavery as the ultimate courage has been replaced by a more reflective understanding of "Never Again Will Masada Fall".  The goal no longer is a choice between death or freedom, rather it is ensuring life and freedom and that is a powerful message.

Nonetheless, it is always a thrill to be on Masada, especially with those who have not been there before. The granaries, the cisterns, the breach in the wall, the discussion about Josephus and his agenda, never lose their power for me.

The rest of Friday was spent in "preparation for Shabbat" and welcoming Shabbat. Our guide Julie and I have been harsh taskmasters giving little time for shopping and hurrying people out of stores to keep us running on time. Our schedule has been full and timing has been important. So by the time we reached the Ahava Factory Outlet store and gift shop at Qumran, and we gave them a whole hour for eating and shopping, need I say more?

Then it was down the road to the Dead Sea beach at Qumran. Below are several photos of people covered in mud and floating in the sea. I am under threat of death to post certain shots here but perhaps they can be a fundraiser for Westminster and TBZ. Of course all the money would go to support Mitzvah Day and other similar projects....

Arriving back in Jerusalem we changed and dressed for Shabbat, boarded the bus and drove to Kol Haneshama for Shabbat evening services. Every Jewish worship service in every congregation is unique unto itself. After a brief introduction to the service and Reform Judaism in Israel the singing began and our souls were lifted. Shabbat should be about peace and joy. The service was that and more. At the service were two of our former Institute of Liberal Jewish Studies teachers, Rabbis Elyse Goldstein and Michael Klein-Katz and of course the rabbi of Kol Haneshama, Rabbi Levi Weiman-Kelman was our Halpern Speaker several years ago. It was a blessing to see them, hug them and wish them Shabbat Shalom.

Our Shabbat dinner at the hotel overwhelmed us with food and new, deep friendships. May the extra soul we gained this Shabbat carry us through to next Shabbat and beyond.

Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem,

Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld

Thursday, January 21, 2010

To Israel with Temple Beth Zion and Westminster Presbyterian Church Part 5

January 21, 2010

Today was a somber day, but this evening was filled with joy.

We began the morning at Hadassah Hospital to see the magnificent Chagall Windows and learn a bit about the incredible work and research at the hospital.

We then proceeded to Har Herzl, Mount Herzl, Israel's main military cemetery which also contains the graves of some of it's most important leaders. I am always moved by our visits here and each time see something new. This visit was no different. As we approached Theodore Herzl's grave there were a number of new Israeli soldiers surrounding it as they learned about Herzl and the early Zionist movement.

We left the grave and went to a place in the cemetery where we could visit the graves of those who fell during the first Lebanon war. Buried among those dead was the grave of Yigal Yadin, most known for being the head archeologist at Masada but who was also a military leader and hero. When he died, he asked to be buried among his troops.

We left Har Herzl and went to Yad VaShem, Israel's Holocaust memorial and museum. As always, the range of emotions was broad. There were those who had to get out of the museum as soon as possible as they could not deal with the horror and those who read every word in every exhibit in order to try and comprehend the horror. We comforted each other, held each other up and supported one another.

We left the museum, had a Yizkor service in the Hall of Remembrance, honored the memory of the 1.5 million Jewish children killed in the Holocaust at the Children's Memorial and finished at the path which honors the Righteous Gentiles who at great risk to themselves and their families helped save Jews. I have never been to Yad VaShem with an interfaith group. But standing their with our partners from Westminster, who are now more than partners - they are friends, gave new meaning to this garden path. If God forbid we ever needed their help, I do not believe, but I KNOW they will be there for us, standing with us against those who would seek to destroy us.

This evening we had a joyous, raucous time. Just over half of us went to my favorite restaurant, Samy on Agrippa Street (yes this is a shameless plug for them!) Together we ate, we laughed, we bonded, we ate some more. It was the perfect end to our day.

Tomorrow we go to the Dead Sea and then come back to Jerusalem to welcome Shabbat!

Shalom from Israel,

Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

To Israel with Temple Beth Zion and Westminster Presbyterian Church Part 4

Wednesday January 20, 2010

I'm sure many of you would not be surprised that for most of my life I have asked my literature teachers: "How do you know...?" I had that feeling much of today as we walked in the walled city of Jerusalem.

We actually started our day outside the walls in East Jerusalem at the Garden Tomb. In the mid-1800's Protestant Christians decided that this was the site of the crucifixion and burial of Jesus while most Christian groups decided 1400 years earlier that the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was the site. For me the question remains: "How does anyone know?" These decisions were made long before archeology was even in its infancy! The same is true for Biblical sites. Even some of the places that have Biblical names but not much archeological evidence could have been identified 1800+ years ago as a particular location, may in actuality be in a different place altogether.

Jerusalem (in Hebrew Yerushalayim), however contains a tremendous amount of archeological proof confirming the reality the identification and today we spent a good deal of time looking at that evidence.

Leaving the Garden Tomb we toured the excavations outside the southern retaining wall of the Temple Mount. Here we saw evidence of the existence of Herod's Temple, its destruction and the building of new walls to replace older ones. We then returned to the Western Wall to meditate and pray. I was engaged by the intensity with which some of our group prayed. Some of the most jaded among us was moved to tears. I fulfilled the mitzvah of delivering a note for M. S.'s parents and saying Yizkor and Kaddish for him.

We then continued into the underground passage way which allowed us to see almost the entire length of the western wall of the Temple Mount. As we walked through the tunnels I was again overwhelmed by the amount of work it took to build the walls so perfectly and how it has become an object of veneration by so many. As always there was a group of women praying in the tunnel at the spot nearest to where many estimate the Holy of Holies would have stood before it was destroyed in 70 C.E.. Simply put, the Western Wall Tunnel is awesome.

Following a good, warm lunch we went to Hezikiah's "Broad Wall" he built to defend Jerusalem from the Assyrian invaders in the late 700's C.E. and the Cardo, the old Roman marketplace, now filled with modern Judaica shops. Leaving the Cardo and gong through the Shuk to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and finally to David's Tower and a tour of its exhibits. It was a long day of walking but more than worth it.

A couple of observations:

It is definitely different being at these Christian sites with members of a Christian congregation taht we know so well. The trust and openness is not only refreshing, it is inspiring!

Second, While today was about the "Old" City I think we all found a closer connection to our present and hopefully a commitment to the future.

Peace and Blessings from Jerusalem,

Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

To Israel with Temple Beth Zion and Westminster Presbyterian Church Part 3

Tuesday January 19, 2010

Today was a long but wonderful day!

We began by visiting the museum at Kibbutz Ginosar where we viewed the conserved remains of a 2000+ year old boat that was found in the Sea of Galilee (Kineret) just off the shore of the kibbutz. I remember reading about the efforts to excavate and conserve it. It was a thrill for me but even more of a thrill for our resident archeologists, M and G!

We went from viewing the 2000 year old boat to boarding a decades old boat for a quick ride on the Kinneret. While the wind was blowing and it was a bit choppy it was an incredible ride. Tom read the New Testament passages about Jesus calming the sea and walking on water and followed with a brief discussion of the passage. I couldn't help but compare and contrast it to the story of Jonah.

While on the boat I saw this sign. Normally when we see the word חגורת - belt in the Bible, it refers to a belt with which one "girds one's loins". It fascinated me that here it was used as part of the term for a life preserver. Perhaps if there is a need for a life preserver, one does need to find the courage to actually use it.

Soon we were back on shore and boarding the bus to head to Kfar Nahum, known more commonly in English as Capernum.

Capernum has always fascinated me. In the 3rd - 4th centuries it was a truly integrated city housing healthy Jewish and Christian communities. It had an ancient church and an ancient synagogue. And yes, the synagogue has "donation plaques"! The names of some of the donors are chiseled into the pillars of the synagogue. Even more amazing is that some of the names are non-Jews which shows just how close the communities must have been.

From Capernum we headed south to Tiberias and a quick visit to the grave of the Rambam, Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, commonly known as Maimonides. This coming Pesach will mark his 875th birthday and I felt we had to go to see his grave.

After lunch in Tiberias we went to an overlook of Nazareth and Mount Tabor. Most people are familiar with Nazareth but not Mount Tabor. In the Book of Judges, Mount Tabor is the place where Deborah and Barak defeated the armies of Jabin and his general Sissera. If you have never read Judges chapters 4 and 5. It is a powerful story indeed.

Mount Megido - Har Megido - Armageddon stands at the intersection of the three major trade routes of the ancient fertile crescent. 27 times was the city built and 27 times it was destroyed as armies vied for control of the trade routes for nearly 2 millennia. The site has been named a World Heritage Site and it is a designation that is richly deserved. With its history, is it any wonder that Armageddon had become synonymous with the great battle at the end of time?

Exhausted after a long day, we began the 2 hour ride to Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is where I feel most at home and most connected in Israel. Most groups like to enter the city and head up to Mt. Scopus or the Mount of Olives to mark the occasion of entering the city. I prefer to go to the Haas Promenade to the south of Jerusalem. It would have been from that direction that Abraham would have first seen Mount Moriah with Isaac as they headed toward the climax of Abraham's test - would he or would he not sacrifice his son. The story is an affirmation of Mount Moriah and Jerusalem as a place of positive change and peace. What better place from which to enter the holy city? I can think of none.

Tomorrow we will tour East Jerusalem and the Old City inside the ancient walls. We will finish our tour at the Kotel, the Western Wall. Custom is to place prayers in the wall. I am on a special mission to do that tomorrow on behalf of a special family. I cannot even begin to imagine what it will feel like to put a prayer in the wall in memory of M. S., z''l (of blessed memory).

Shalom from Jerusalem!

Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld

Monday, January 18, 2010

To Israel with Temple Beth Zion and Westminster Presbyterian Church Part 2

Sunday January 17, 2010

This morning we began by going to Immanuel Lutheran Church. It’s pastor, Christian, welcomed us warmly. The service was interesting on several levels. First, the service was conducted in English, which was not the pastor’s native tongue. Second, the difference in participation in the Jews and Christians in our group. Third, Christian knew we were two congregations, one Presbyterian but thought TBZ was a “messianic” synagogue so both his homily and his remarks to us after the service were very Jesus centered. During his talk to us, one of the Westminster members gently moved him on to other topics. When we explained that no, we were not “messianic” he was taken aback as he had never heard of “regular” Jews attending church services.

After some cake and coffee, we boarded the bus and began our journey north to Ceaasaria. We stopped for a quick bite to eat at a mall with a food court. Not surprisingly, the group split, 1/3 heading to the falafel bar, 1/3 to the coffee shop and 1/3 to McDonalds! We reboarded the bus and quickly arrived at Herod’s great city by the sea.

Here, our guide Julie Baretz, outdid herself with her ability to weave both Jewish and Christian history into her commentary and her sensitivity to both groups. I listened with wonder while we were in the amphitheater and she talked of how Christians faced the lions there while the Talmudic rabbis insisted that Jews attend to show support for a “thumbs up” for the Christian and a chance to live.

From Ceasaria we continued north to Haifa and a panoramic view of the city looking down at the magnificent Bahai Gardens. My high school friend Hedy met us there for a too brief reunion and catch up session. I don’t care what anyone says, in person is so much better than on line!

We left Haifa as the sun set over the bay and we began our trek to the Galilee. Safely ensconced at Kibbutz Ginosar (the place where Yigal Alon founded the Palmach) guest house, we had a wonderful meal and retired to our rooms for much needed rest before our 6:30 wake up call as we begin our exploration of the Galilee and Golan.

Monday January 18, 2010,

This morning began a very moving day for everyone. We headed north from Ginosar to our first stop at the Church of the Beatitudes located on the site that Jesus is said to have given the Sermon on the Mount. Tom Yorty began by reading for us the Beatitudes from the Book of Matthew. I couldn't help but notice the similarity between the Beatitudes and sections of Pirke Avot. It was truly a moving moment for all of us.

From there we drove north to the head waters of the Jordan stopping at both Banyas
and Tel Dan. The rain was pouring, which after 5 years of below average rainfall was truly a blessing for Israel. It was a fulfillment of the blessing we say in the Avot - May God cause the rain to fall and the winds to blow! Needless to say, the hike through Tel Dan was VERY wet.

Undismayed we continued on to Kiriyat Shmona for lunch. There we saw these Israeli soldiers eating at Burger King. The boarder with Lebanon is calm these days and Kiriyat Shmona seems to be thriving. But, one cannot get away from the knowledge that the top of the ridge over looking the town is the Lebanese border. It is a sobering reminder of the possibility of falling rockets and the blessing of hope of a town thriving during peace.

We continued on to some much needed shopping time at the Naot Shoe Factory and their outlet store where some serious purchasing occurred. G earned the title of best shopper with 5 pairs of shoes at an incredible price.

Finally it was off to Tzefat (Safed) where we went to a mystical synagogue and learned about Kabbalah as well as synagogue architecture. I went to see my friends at their shop, Canaan Gallery but missed them by just a few minutes.

On the way back to Ginosar, we talked about the experiences we have had with prayer and worship so far. There were lots of questions which led me to realize that we need to do a better job of educating our fellow travelers on each other's faith and worship traditions before Shabbat.

Finally back at the Kibbutz, I found a special treat. My first trip to Isarel was in 1971 on the Eisendrath International Exchange program (EIE). For six months 25+ teenagers came to Israel as exchange students. Through the magic of Facebook I found one of them lived not far from Ginosar so he and his wife met us at the Kibbutz. The hour and a half we spent together was too short especially since we hadn't seen each other since we left Israel 38 years ago this past December. While we are both gray, older and perhaps wiser, it was like we had always been in touch. Some of you may remember my story of going to a Moshav with a friend and meeting with the Rebbe of the Moshav. During our meeting a man burst in with a question of Kashrut and the Rebbe answered him. I tell the story often. Tonight I reunited with the friend with whom I went to the Moshav. What a treat and a pleasure.

Tomorrow we visit Kfar Nahum (Capernicum), the grave of Maimonides in Tiberias, the Church of the Ascension in Nazareth and then FINALLY we come to Jerusalem where we will enter the city by the route Abraham must have used on his way to Mount Moriah.

Shalom from Israel,

Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld

Shalom from Ginosar!

Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld