Saturday, September 23, 2017

36 Hours In NY

Here is a post I wrote in April 2012 but never uploaded.


We arrived in NYC via Newark airport, something I hadn't done in a decade. After checking into the hotel we walked to dinner at the TriBeCa Grill. Still being Pesach (Passover)our restaurant choices were a bit limited so a steakhouse seemed like a great choice and it was. The atmosphere was vibrant but warm. People conversed between tables and of course the food was superb.

Thursday we had 3 missions in order of importance:

1). Find light fixtures for the dining room and entry.
2). Buy theatre tickets for that night and when we get back at the end of the month (love those Playbill discounts and avoiding the TKTS lines).
3). Do something fun before dinner and the show.

So after matzah brei at Katz's for breakfast it was off to the lighting store where M accomplished her mission before I finished 10 games of sudoku on my phone.

Taking the train to Times Square we got the tickets we wanted at a reasonable price for Broadway and then headed up to the American Museum of Natural History for their special exhibit "Beyond Planet Earth". I was a great examination of space travel to date, near term plans and longer term objectives. It was quite impressive.

Dinner was at Blue Fin at the Hotel W. the food was good (although I'm looking forward to trying it again when it's not Pesach), the atmosphere a bit loud but manageable,but the high light og the decor was the entry from the restaurant into the hotel. Go see it, it is worth it on its own.

We saw the play ”Gore Vidal’s The Best Man”. It was the perfect thing to see in this most mean spirited election year. Can politicians put aside thei own ego for the true good of the country? The cast was superb led by James Earl Jones, John Laroquette, Candace Bergen, Angela Lansbury and Eric McCormick. I am curious to see what changes if any they made to the script. Each issue presented still rings true today.

That's the beauty of good art. It's themes stand the test of time.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Rosh Hashanah Morning 5778
Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld
Congregation Albert
Albuquerque, New Mexico

While procrastinating writing this sermon, I calculated that over my six year tenure at Congregation Albert I have saved 85,000 emails, deleted 10’s of thousands more and received about 22,000 junk emails for a total close to 150,000 - 200,000 emails or about 25,000 - 35,000 emails a year. That does not count the 10’s of thousands I received and read on my personal email accounts. I am not citing these numbers to whine about how busy I am or brag about how hard I work. I know that the vast majority of those emails are from you and contain the important details of your lives, your families, your hopes, and your dreams. I also know that most of you receive at least that many emails each year and many of you far more.

Before email, none of us received 1/10 of the number of phone calls and letters combined as we do emails today. Email is the greatest time suck ever invented.

Juliet Funt, yes the daughter of Allen Funt of Candid Camera, teaches:
  1. Most of us who are working spend 100% of our time on exertion, i.e. doing and 0% of our time on thoughtfulness.
  2. We are too busy to become un-busy
  3. With ever present screens, TV, computers, phones, pads, game consoles, email, texts, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, WhatsApp, iMessage, and so much more, we have become uncomfortable with The Pause, moments of quiet, moments of reflection.

Ms. Funt reflects that at work we have lost the permission “think the un-thunk thought” and at home,  one day, we will rue the precious moments we miss because we are busy.

She shares a story she heard about a woman who turned down the opportunity to spend the day driving and picnicking with her family. Her spouse and children enjoyed a marvelous day. Two weeks later her spouse died. According to the woman’s daughter, for the rest of her life she repeated: “I didn’t take the ride.” We have all missed at least one drive because we were “too busy”. I am among the worst culprits.

We believe there are forces in this world that compel us to tie ourselves to the ground and not let our spirits and our lives soar. These forces may include our own egos or our image of what makes us important, as well as others. Yes, there are times we need to work, to struggle, to be busy. But, we also need to let go, to pause and allow ourselves the freedom to think, the freedom to grow spiritually.

My friend and colleague, Rabbi Larry Malinger, uses this example: “When we start to fly and are struggling against these forces [eg. gravity and inertia], there is a lot of noise. Sometimes, it is an external noise…. Other times it is an internal noise…. It is true, for the first ‘10,ooo feet” it is hard, it is noisy, you cannot use approved electronic devices, your seat belt must remain fastened…. Then the noise slowly fades and you keep climbing. You can now use electronic devices. Having reached cruising altitude, you can get out of your seat and move around. Nonetheless, turbulence, or other complications [occur] and you will need to refasten your seat belts just to stay safe.”

I love this analogy. Even though the noise fades it is not gone. If you let it, the noise fades into your unconscious until “we begin our descent”. The time between reaching 10,000 feet and beginning our descent is a pause. You allow yourself to simply go along for the ride. You let go of control. True, someone is flying the plane, but it is not you. “The descent” itself is a wonderful metaphor. The plane begins its descent back toward earth just as we, at the end of the pause, return to the busyness of life.

This morning we read of Abraham answering God’s call with the word “הינני, I am here, I am ready to take on the task as awesome or as awful as it may be.” Throughout Torah and the entire Hebrew Bible, our ancestors answered the call with “הינני, I am here, I am ready.”

Mostly, “הינני, I am here, I am ready” responds to an external call; whether the voice of God or, more likely, the alert on our phone. Our ancestors understood the importance of responding to that external call. They also understood the need to respond to the internal call with “הינני I am here, I am ready”. Therefore, they gifted us שבת, the Sabbath, a day of pause, a day to put aside the roar of the engine, the alert of our phone, and take control of our time.

Rabbi Maligner writes: “In a world full of distractions, the proper way to translate ‘Hineni’ today is  ‘I am fully present.’ I am fully present in my life.” Ms. Funt reminds us that the moments of creativity and insight occur when we are fully present and able to create WhiteSpace in which to consciously pause.

Let’s be honest. We all know what happens when we are not fully present, when we do not pause. We crash; we hit the wall; we burn out - pick your metaphor. We get irritable. The important people in our lives feel ignored. We lash out. We do a lousy job. And of course, we are SO much fun to be around.

Think you are different, that you do not need the pause? Think you are superhuman and able to do it all 24/7/365 (or 6)? Our ancestors knew better even if we do not. From its outset, Torah teaches the importance of the pause. Even God, whom Torah saw as omnipotent, took a break after six days spent creating the world. Continuously in Torah, Tanach and Rabbinic Literature, the importance of Shabbat is reiterated over and over and over and over. The Torah, and later the Rabbis, reiterate the punishment for ignoring Shabbat is the ultimate punishment, death. While Torah sets the sentence to be carried out by stoning, we know dying from exhaustion and stress was, and is, more often the cause of death.

As we wrote you earlier this month:

It does not have to be the Shabbat of your great-grandparents. Be creative and daring. Find a way to make Shabbat meaningful for you. A quiet dinner with family or friends, or going for a hike in this incredible place we are blessed to call home. Call friends and family to reconnect and show your caring. The possibilities are endless. This first time experimenting with Shabbat may not open new doors or create a spiritual high. But, perhaps, with time and repetition you may discover things about yourself that can only come to light in the space that Shabbat can provide...Find or create your own way of observing Shabbat. 

Historically the Jewish community observed Shabbat on Friday night and Saturday. My teacher Rabbi Alvin Reines, since he worked every Friday night and Saturday, observed Shabbat on Thursday night and Friday. I do not suggest you follow Rabbi Reines’ example any more than you follow your grandparents’. Find your own path. Draw from the core of our tradition, understand the purpose of Shabbat and revel in the pause. Use the WhiteSpace of Shabbat to center yourself and re-find your creative, introspective true self. Do not be afraid of the descent back to the busyness of life. Your landing will be much smoother because you took the time to pause.

Making time to pause and understanding our priorities allows for the growth of opportunities. Our own personal WhiteSpace of Shabbat helps us to know who we are, and what we are truly meant to do. We can be blessed with the luxury of identifying the path we need to take in life, realizing what is important to us and most important, who is important to us. When we know that, things fall into place.

Find the strength to pause and may you never have to say: “I didn’t take the ride.”
Erev Rosh Hashanah 5778
Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld
Congregation Albert
Albuquerque, New Mexico

For the first time in my rabbinate I have received emails, calls and had conversations with people who were not just curious as to what I was going to speak about during these Holy Days but telling me what I should say about each topic and what I should not mention. What positions I should take and which I should avoid.

I have never shied away from speaking my mind from the bimah - from the pulpit. I appreciate when people who agree with me or disagree with me come to me afterward to share their insights. I have colleagues who will not speak about Israel from the bimah for fear of angering people who may disagree. Others who will not speak about morality or our prophetic tradition for the same reason. That has never been my issue. My struggle has been and continues to be presenting my thoughts in a way that leaves open the possibility of dialog.

I was raised by my Rabbi, Philip Horowitz z”l who received a subpoena to testify before Joseph McCarthy’s House un-American Affairs Committee. Appearing before the committee, he refused to testify. Rabbi Horowitz knew the actions and motivations of the committee’s leadership violated both Jewish ethics and our American value of Liberty and Justice for all.

I was raised in the tradition of Rabbi Joachim Prinz z”l who was a leader in the Civil Rights movement. On August 28, 1963, he spoke just before Martin Luther King gave his “I Have A Dream Speech.” That day Rabbi Prinz spoke these words which were taught to me and ingrained into me

When I was the rabbi of the Jewish community in Berlin under the Hitler regime, I learned many things. The most important thing that I learned under those tragic circumstances was that bigotry and hatred are not the most urgent problem. The most urgent, the most disgraceful, the most shameful and the most tragic problem is silence.

A great people which had created a great civilization had become a nation of silent onlookers. They remained silent in the face of hate, in the face of brutality and in the face of mass murder….

Rabbi Prinz continues:

The time, I believe has come to work together - for it is not enough to hope together, and it is not enough to pray together, to work together…[that] from Maine to California, from North to South, may become, a glorious, unshakeable reality in a morally renewed and united America.

The moral renewal of which Rabbi Prinz spoke was most certainly not the morality of what we do in our bedrooms or the choices we make with regard to our bodies. The moral renewal he yearned for was the coming of fruition of the moral dream of America; Liberty and Justice for all.

For the majority of my life the moral vacuum in our country has been growing. Gone are the days of fighting for liberty for all on the battlefields of Europe and the Pacific. While fighting in the fields of Europe and the shores of the Pacific, our government led at home. First, creating a military integrated and open to all, then, taking on the monumental task of leading the way on civil rights. Voices of opposition were heard but the inherent truth of Liberty and Justice for all dominated and prevailed. However, since the mid-1970’s the voice of opposition to that great American principle has grown and the moral voices have been cowed into a silence of death. Leadership in government, with too few exceptions, and especially on the national level, continues to devolve into a mentality of “I have to win and you have to lose.” And if you disagree with me you are evil”.

The events and the responses to Charlottesville stand as an example of this growing moral vacuum. Nazi marches in our streets began in the 1930’s. In the post WWII years, none were to be seen until the infamous march in Skokie. A location chosen because of its high concentration of Holocaust survivors.

Call it Nazism or white supremacy, they are two sides of the same coin. The march in Charlottesville shows how complacent we have become. First, the Nazi’s in Charlottesville elevated their heinousness by carrying weapons of war. The slogans shouted were modifications of the hate they have always spouted but, the weaponry brought a new level of seriousness. If you think Charlottesville was an anomaly, think again. 

This past Friday night - yes on erev Shabbat, African-American protesters in St. Louis surrounded by police and facing tear gas and rubber bullets, took refuge through the only open door they could find - the door of Central Reform Congregation. Whether or not the congregation should have opened its doors to them is not the issue. Almost immediately a new hashtag appeared on Twitter “gasthesynagogue.” The tweets came not just from radical right wing groups but from the major supplier of the police departments throughout the country.. If you think the business was just trying to sell more tear gas and did not understand the historical reference to the Shoah - the Holocaust, think again.

Charlottesville marked a nadir in American values; St. Louis a new low. At the same time, though, we began to see the pendulum swing back. It was as if America began to awaken from a nightmare filled sleep. Finally, after Charlottesville, led some of our elected officials, the voice of unequivocal condemnation began to rise.

The first voices to be heard were from the national legislative branch: Republican Senators. Men and women who within hours stood up and said: “Not in our America we strive for!” Then slowly, Democratic voices began to come forth with a similar message. But the voices of those in senior leadership of the national executive and legislative branches were silent or at best equivocating. Meanwhile, loud, peaceful shouts filled the streets of our country calling for an elevation of our system toward the goal of liberty and justice for all. These voices rose like a symphony of shofarot calling our nation to repent our 40 year silence and renew the call for liberty throughout the land.

What about we Jews? The literature of our Jewish heritage is unequivocal. In the Book of Esther, when Esther is hesitant about confronting the King, Mordecai says to her (4:14): “If you keep silent in this moment,… you and your father’s house will perish. Who knows, perhaps you have attained this (royal) position for this exact moment.” - If Esther, in a time when women had no rights could stand and speak before the King - who are we to stay silent?

Tractate Berachot says: “In anger God said to Moses in Deuteronomy 9:10: ‘Leave Me be, that I may destroy them’ Moses said to himself: If God is telling me to let Him be, it must be because this matter is dependent upon me. Immediately Moses stood and was strengthened in prayer, and asked that God have mercy on the nation of Israel and forgive them for their transgression.” If Moses could confront God - Who are we to stay silent?

Leviticus 19:18: “Rebuke your neighbor that you may not share in his/her guilt.” If our ancestors were called to confront evil - Who are we to stay silent?

And of course Pirkei Avot 1:14: “Rabbi Hillel used to say: if I am not for me, who will be for me? And when I am for myself alone, what am I? And if not now, when?” - “And if not now, when?” Who are we to stay silent now?

But what is the purpose of ending the silence? In the 6th Century, Avot de Rabbi Natan A, 23, 38a taught: “Who is the most heroic of heroes? One who conquers one’s own inclination to do evil. And some say: one who makes an enemy into a friend.”

The first silence we need to end is the blindness we carry about ourselves. Where do I fall short? To whom do I deny liberty and justice? If your answer is you do not fall short and you do not have your bigotries, then you are blind to yourself and a fool.

The second part of the saying: “makes an enemy into a friend.” cannot be accomplished in silence or with violence. Lowering ourselves to the level of those who try and dehumanize us gives them a victory. Honest, open, peaceful dialog, where all participants listen with open hearts and minds, leads not necessarily to agreement, but to the recognition of a joint commitment to our prime values and ethical standards. Just as we will not be dehumanized, neither shall we sink to that level and dehumanize others. Dehumanization of others builds and reinforces the bigotry and  evil within ourselves.

As my colleague Rabbi Larry Malinger writes: “Many religious traditions promote asceticism, withdrawal from the institutions and activities of the everyday world…. Judaism, however, goes in the opposite direction: our tradition teaches us to embrace argument. Just as God in the story of Creation, creates the world and brings order out of chaos through words, so vibrant human words - debate and discussion - can serve as instruments of creation as well.”

Recently, a number of us refused to be silent. We went to our Senators’ offices to push them to be more vocal and present in their denunciation of hatred and bigotry, to push them to become the leaders standing up for Liberty and Justice for all we need them to be. One of the aides said: “the Senator is concerned about casual racism.” We did not remain silent. The aide heard loud and clear that there is no such thing as “casual racism.” Racism in all its forms demeans both the target of the bigotry and the bigot. Especially in the presence of power we must not remain silent.

We are blessed to live in a city and a state that is better than most. Yet, as we learn over and over, better is not always good. We cannot hide in the shelter of our homes or even this, our Jewish home. It is time to speak.

In 1774, future Revolutionary War soldier and Vermont Congressman, Rev. Nathaniel Niles spoke these words:

If any should say, it is in vain for them as individuals to be vigilant, zealous and firm in pursuing any measures for the security of our rights, unless all would unite: I would reply:

Ages are composed of seconds, the earth of sands, and the sea of drops, too small to be seen by the naked eye. The smallest particles have their influence….each individual has a proportion of influence on some neighbour at least; he, on another, and so on;… We know not what individuals may do. We are not at liberty to lie dormant until we can, at once, influence the whole. We must begin with the weight we have. Should the little springs neglect to flow till a general agreement should take place, the torrent that now bears down all before it, would never be formed. These mighty floods have their rise in single drops from rocks; which, uniting, creep along till they meet with another combination so small that it might be absorbed by the travellers [sic] foot. These unite, proceed, enlarge, till mountains tremble at their sound. Let us receive instruction from the streams,… 

Rabbis Horowitz and Prinz taught me: never be silent. Rev. Niles teaches a word can become a catalyst for change. Torah teaches: only God can create worlds with words. We know our words can change worlds for blessing.

May the words of our mouths blare forth with the power to change ourselves and change the world. כן יהי רצון.