Friday, June 19, 2015

Reflections On Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church Charleston and The Church of the Multiplication in Tabgha

I posted an article on my Facebook page about the murders in the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston with the comment: “When will we ever learn?” Soon after I posted an article about the arson at the Church of the Multiplication in Tabgha with the comment: “When we are taught to be "a light to the nations" this is NOT the light God was talking about.” (

Over the past 2 days I continued to reflect on the connections between the two horrific crimes and the national and international reactions to them. Briefly, here are my thoughts:

1)            At their core, there is no difference between the crimes. They are crimes of pure unadulterated hate. There may also be elements of wanting to instill fear beyond the crime itself. If so, then there is an aspect of terrorism present.
2)            News reports and commentators talk about the "loss of life" in Charleston. Lives were not lost or misplaced. Using the word lost implies the dead had something to do with their own deaths. People were murdered. Seen by their murderer as less than human, in his mind he slaughtered them as if they were livestock.
3)            Arson does not seem like a strong enough word to describe the desecration of the Church of the Multiplication. Until the perpetrators are caught we will not know if their prime motivation was to instill fear in the Israeli Christian community (thus terrorism) or if it was an act of hatred or both. Regardless, arson is a descriptive euphemism for this horrific act of destruction.
4)           It is long past time for America and Israel to deal with the scourges of hatred and bigotry and, in America, the scourge of gun violence, all of which threaten to erode the very fabric of these two countries we love.
5)            When caught and convicted, in addition to being punished to the full extent of Israeli law, those that attempted to destroy the Church of the Multiplication and those whose teachings they follow should be put in Cherem – excommunicated from the Jewish community. Their teachings and their acts are antithetical to Judaism and if we, as a Jewish community, do not use every means available to us to condemn them and exclude them from the Jewish community, the shamefulness of their act is also born by us.
6)            If Dylann Storm Roof murdered Tywanda Sanders, Susie Jackson, South Carolina State Senator the Rev. Clementa C. Pinckney, Cynthia Hurd, Sharonda Coleman-Singleton, DePayne Middleton-Doctor, Ethel Lee Lance, Myra Thompson, Rev. Daniel Lee Simmons Sr., (yes, we must uphold our principles including innocent until proven guilty in a court of law) he and his teachers should be excommunicated from their churches in addition to being sentenced to the full extent of the law.

The time has come to stop “pussyfooting around” with language and call murder – murder, racism – racism, hate – hate and evil – evil. The time has come for us to expel from our Jewish community those whose acts of hatred and enmity toward others are antithetical to our Jewish teaching of the sacredness of human life. The time has come for us to ask other faith traditions to do the same.

I believe in repentance and if, after serving their sentences, the perpetrators of these crimes truly repent, we would welcome them back with open arms but until that day, they are not us.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

Digging Dig

I’ve always enjoyed watching TV shows and movies filmed in places I’ve lived. It’s fun driving by locations to see the shooting or recognizing a place that is familiar. My first experience was in the early to mid 1960’s. I was 7 or 8 and my parents took me to see the location they were filming 77 Sunset Strip (or was it Route 66?) They were filming on Mayfield Road in Cleveland where the I-271 on-ramp was being built. We watched the show as a family each week waiting for that one scene and sat on the couch pointing and yelling “look look!”

Living in Anchorage while Northern Exposure aired we were able to play the game “What did they get wrong? In Buffalo we would go to quirky movies made there, including Bruce Almighty to see the places we knew. Now Albuquerque has given me more opportunities to experience the excitement of recognition. Even before we arrived in Albuquerque we were devoted fans of In Plain Sight. I am embarrassed to say we never got into Breaking Bad but now watch Better Call Saul every week.

But most of all there is Dig.

For those who are not familiar with the show, you can check this link: Dig. For me, watching Dig is a combination of watching Northern Exposure and that 1960’s TV show. Conversation here centers on questions about the accuracy of the Jewish references and spotting the places in New Mexico they filmed.


Because of a connection through one of my Rabbinic colleagues, the crew came to Congregation Albert and asked to borrow Judaica they could use for props. They borrowed framed artwork, a miniature Torah, and a large menorah among other things. As a scene plays and I see the items from Congregation Albert, I feel like I did all those years ago. 

As a thank you from the show, they gave us a giant (yes, giant) menorah they created from a 3D printer! My geeky tech side merges with my nerdy TV side every time I see it in the lobby.

It’s good to feel like a kid again!

Thursday, March 5, 2015

What Does It Mean For The Jews - My Reactions to Being In Congress for P.M. Netanyahu's Speech

As I previously wrote, I had mixed feelings about attending Prime Minister Netanyahu's speech to Congress. The underlying politics both here and in Israel are, to say the least, distasteful. I disagree with much of P.M. Netanyahu's positions and personally feel he is as much an obstacle to peace as President Abbas of the Palestinian Authority.

However, out of respect for Representative Michelle Lujan Grisham who invited me to attend, I decided to go. In the hours after the speech I realized I was primarily there as a representative of our Jewish community. I was there because I am a rabbi.

Sitting in the Visitor’s Gallery of the House of Representatives I knew I was surrounded by people with whom I had little in common other than a love for the State of Israel and an absolute commitment to help ensure her survival. From the start it was clear that the people seated around me were ardent supporters of the Prime Minister and his politics. Even so, I felt a sense of awe as I looked over the House chamber, a place where history has been, and continues to be, made.

I listened carefully to the speech, the arguments presented, the examples given, and the reactions of Members of Congress and of those seated in the gallery. I felt the Prime Minister did his best to reach out to President Obama and the administration as he emphasized all that President Obama has done for Israel and alluded to tangible support from the President that, due to security considerations, may never be publically known. I resented the implication that the Prime Minister speaks for all Jews. He does not speak for me. The introduction of Elie Wiesel both moved and saddened me. Being seated less than 50 feet from him moved me. Seeing and hearing him used as a political prop saddened me.

Leaving the gallery I was swept up in a throng of people all trying to get to the desk where we had to leave our cell phones. The comments I heard ranged from "brilliant talk" to "under whelming because of the lack of any creative solutions.” Personally, I agreed with the latter. Netanyahu said nothing new and he did not offer any alternatives to the negotiations. Much like with those who object to changing our Cuba policy all he had to offer was more sanctions, which as we all know, have not worked.

I continue to be concerned with the short and long-term threat Iran poses to America, Israel and the world. I know what I would like to see in an agreement with Iran. However, I also know that my opinion is based on emotion not knowledge. I do not have the expertise to know if my ideas would alleviate the threat or exacerbate it. I am not a policy analyst, foreign relations, security, or arms control expert. I am a rabbi.

At dinner that evening with Congresswoman Lujan Grisham we exchanged our thoughts about the speech and the dynamics present in the House chamber. After quickly agreeing that there are no easy answers to the Iranian threat, I shared what moved me the most. That is as Americans and Jews we are truly blessed. Listening to the cheers of our senators and representatives, watching them jump to their feet and applaud as the Prime Minister talked about the need to protect Israel and Jews reinforced what I have, and what I think we all have known. Any anti-Semitism we see in America pales in comparison to what we see in Europe and around the world because our leaders do not tolerate, promote or foster it. Their loud reaction to Netanyahu's mention of Iranian threats to destroy, not just Israel, but all Jews was second only to his mention of their threat to destroy America. I understood that while we must never be silent when anti-Semitism occurs, we live in a country whose government has our back.

In our dinner conversation, Rep. Lujan Grisham reinforced this message. She agreed that there is strong, unbreakable, if not unlimited support for the American Jewish community and for Israel both in Congress and the Administration.

I was there not just as Congresswoman Lujan Grisham's guest but also as a rabbi. As your rabbi I am proud to bring this message of support home to you.

Shalom uv'racha,

Rabbi Harry L. Rosenfeld

Saturday, February 28, 2015

Why I Decided To Attend Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s Address To Congress

Last week I received a call from Congresswoman Michelle Lujan-Grisham to be her guest at Prime Minister Netanyahu’s address to a joint session of Congress. While honored I had mixed feelings about what I wanted to do. Part of my gut told me I had to go and my kishkes (my Jewish gut) said not to.

As I was conflicted I turned to friends, colleagues and members for their analysis and advice. As I expected, the people I called split 50/50. Half said go. Half said do not. Both groups offered a variety of reasons to support their position, most of which echoed what I already thought. Some provided unique perspectives.

I concluded that the best possible outcome would be for the Prime Minister to choose not to make the address. Since that is not a reality, I decided to accept Congresswoman Lujan-Grisham’s invitation and attend the address.

The primary reason I decided to accept Congresswoman Lujan-Grisham’s invitation is because of my respect for her and her respect and friendship for our congregation and Jewish community.

My other reasons included:

Benjamin Netanyahu is the sitting Prime Minister of the State of Israel. The upcoming election in Israel nor the internecine fight between Congress and President Obama does not negate the current reality.

I am not a policy expert but I have mixed feelings about our negotiations with Iran. Hearing and seeing the speech live would give me a better perspective on his message and the response from Congress, as I would be there to see body language and hear inflection without the filter of television’s 2 dimensions and “talking heads.”

A significant part of my responsibilities includes representing Congregation Albert in the larger community.

Finally, I believe that it is incumbent upon us as Jews, as Americans and as lovers of freedom that we take the time to educate ourselves about this and every issue. We cannot just read and consider serious articles containing opinions we already agree with but rather, take the risk of reading serious articles containing opinions that diverge from our initial instincts and consider them carefully as well.

Much has been written by American Jewish leaders about “the speech”. I would suggest you read some of these perspectives, both pro and con that I have read.

Rabbi Rick Jacobs, President of the Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) 

Abe Foxman national director of the Anti-Defamation league (ADL)

Rabbi Irwin Kula President of Clal — The National Jewish Center for Learning and Leadership

Alan Dershowitz