Sunday, December 24, 2017

Oman, Dubai, Back To Abu Dhabi, Chanukah, and Home

The ship docked in Oman for a short day so we booked a three hour dolphin watch, half an hour each way and two hours on the boat. Our bus guide lived in a small town about 90 miles away and commuted into Oman five days a week. Twenty-five, single and he claimed he never had a girlfriend. One day he hopes to have one, who of course will be the woman he is about to marry. Other than that, he pointed out a few sights along the way and gave some brief commentary about Oman.

We were on a 20-passenger boat. It took us about 15 – 20 minutes to get to the dolphin area. The viewing was incredible. There were hundreds of dolphins in groups of three – five, swimming, jumping, playing and hunting all around us. We thought that our last whale watching trip off of Maui was incredible as we saw a half dozen or so active whales. If that whale watch was a ten, this dolphin watch was a 30.

We arrived in Dubai for an overnight stay. We purchased a “Big Bus” hop on, hop off 24-hour pass but got a late start because there were torrential rains that morning. Roads were flooded and traffic a nightmare. The shuttle took us from the ship to the Dubai Mall to pick up the bus. But first, we had to see the mall with its indoor skating rink. The skaters looked like they were having a great time. As I was trying to guess who was local and who was a tourist, it was clear that the locals were the best skaters.

It seemed there were 100+ jewelry stores in this mall. Each window had a display containing hundreds of karats of diamonds. To say it was dazzling would certainly be an understatement. (Of course, being the shopper/window shopper that I am, I was done after the first two stores. Someone else saw way more than I did.)

We found our way to the food court for a quick lunch and happily found a Tim Horton’s! No turkey sandwiches to be found. Instead it was falafel and shawarma. If you click here and go to my Facebook page you can see the pictures. Yes, a taste of Buffalo and Canada in the United Arab Emirates. Put the skating rink together with the Tim Horton’s and I think the Buffalo Sabres have found their new development league.

Finally, we hopped on the bus and began our tour. That day we did the whole city route. In addition to the regular recorded tour we had a live tour guide. I finally switched to the recording when I got tired of hearing how everything in Dubai was the biggest, largest… or was when it was first built. They do seem to have a size fetish.

Back on the ship that evening, someone asked me to describe Dubai. It was easy. Dubai is the Epcot or Las Vegas of the middle east. Except for the world’s tallest building and perhaps one or two others, most all the architecture was describe by both the live guide and the recording as replicas of buildings in other countries. There was Big Ben (without the clock), a hotel from Singapore, skyscrapers from Europe, the Far East and of course, a boathouse which was a replica of the Sydney Opera House.

The second day we were back on the bus (this time no live guide) and took the beachside route which began at the Mall of the Emirates. No skating rink here. Just an indoor ski slope and luge run.

In both malls, we were struck by the way people were dressed. The majority were dressed in western garb. Some men wore the traditional white or brown robes. Some women wore head to toe traditional robes but most in non-western dress just wore a hijab. However, in both malls were high end fashion stores that sold fancy women’s robes with elaborate embroidery, gold filigree and other decoration. I didn’t see anyone actually dressed in one but the stores were filled with shoppers.

We decided to go for high tea at a nice hotel on Palm Island. While there, I realized that most of the workers we had met in Dubai, including at the hotel were not native to the UAE. After tea, we met the front desk manager, an American, and asked her if there were any workers native to the UAE in the hotel. She pointed to the security guard. “Just him?” I asked. She replied: “No, the night security man as well.”

Before I write about that day in Abu Dhabi and the flight home, I need to talk about leading Chanukah and Shabbat on the ship. I have been the chaplain on several cruises and gone to Shabbat services on many others. However, this was a totally different experience for me. The ship was incredible. They provided 4 dozen latkes and 4 dozen donuts for every service, not to mention for challot for Shabbat. The staff of Celebrity bent over backwards to make sure everything was perfect. That’s not the unusual part.

This was clearly a cruise that did not have a lot of Jews on it. I only met 8 Jews on the ship. Even assuming that those 8 Jews were 5% of the Jews on the ship, there would only be 160 Jews out of 2000+ passengers. That is not the norm. Actually, the 8 of us were probably 10% of the Jews on the ship. At most nights of Chanukah there were as many non-Jews as Jews in attendance. On Shabbat, we had more non-Jews than Jews. I assume this is not a cruise itinerary that is popular with Jewish passengers. Given my hesitations, I certainly understand. Given my experiences, Jews should feel comfortable traveling this itinerary.

The next day we were back in Abu Dhabi. Before we left on the trip we had pre-bought tickets to the Louvre - Abu Dhabi. Yes, they have a Louvre which is a partnership with the Louvre in Paris. Again, you can see some of the pictures on my Facebook page. The architecture is marvelous and totally different than the original. The artwork was well chosen and presented and the exhibits contained works from pre-historic times to the present. There were only three mentions of Jews that I noticed, all in the world religions gallery. One was on the introductory sign. Second was in the exhibit of tombstones. A Jewish tombstone stood with a Muslim stone and a Christian one. The third was a book bound, illuminated manuscript of the Torah. While there was no mention of Israel, I felt that from a religious standpoint there was no animus in the exhibit toward Jews or Christians.

We had a wonderful last dinner of the trip and were up at 4 am to go to the airport to catch our flight. The flight home was long, uneventful, long, and boring. Did I mention long? This coming spring I am co-leading a trip to Israel although because of B’nei Mtizvah, I am flying separately from the rest of the group. Again, I’ll be on Royal Jordanian, through Amman to Tel Aviv. As we were boarding in Amman to come back to the states, there were a few dozen people who had flown into Amman from Israel on their way back home. They were speaking openly of their time in Israel and no one gave them a second look.

So, even though I had no initial desire and several reservations about going on the trip, I am glad I did. It shattered many of my negative expectations. Helped me expand my horizons, and added three more countries to the list of places I’ve been.

Wednesday, December 13, 2017

Abu Dhabi to Mumbai and the Bene Israel

From the initial decision to take this trip it has certainly been one of the most emotionally interesting of our travels. The motivation for signing up was to get back on the list for cruise chaplains so I took what was available. Abu Dhabi to Goa, India, to Mumbai, to Oman, to Dubai, back to Abu Dhabi. Not a single place I ever wanted to visit and several where I was sure we wouldn’t be welcome. In fact, my first thought was, “If I have to bring a חנוכיה, a Chanukah menorah, how would I get it into Abu Dhabi?”

Then there was deciding how to get to Abu Dhabi. Royal Jordanian Air was the best choice. I was much more comfortable thinking about flying Royal Jordanian through Amman than some of the other choices I had.

I never wanted to visit India but have had and interest in the Bene Israel since I went to their synagogue in Lod for Tisha B’Av in 1971. Of course there is the history of Ghandi. Even so, it was never on my list of places to visit.

But, after booking the airfare, fighting the website for a visa for India and making all the other arrangements, we were on our way. Albuquerque to Chicago, 4 hour layover, Chicago to Amman, 4 hour layover, Amman to Abu Dhabi, to the hotel and finally at 3:00 AM local time, bed.

We planned an extra day in Abu Dhabi on both ends to help with the stress of travel. We arrived in Abu Dhabi in the middle of the night and had picked a hotel near the airport. From landing in the airport, the sight of traditional dress and modern dress all blended together. During lunch at the hotel we watched 2 women in full burkas “bubbling” (smoking from a water pipe) while people lounged around the pool in barely there swim wear. I was surprised that there were Christmas decorations everywhere. On the way home we will do some touring including the new Louvre. I’ll be interested in seeing if being in the heart of the city is the same as being by the beach.

After boarding and sailing 3 days we arrived in Goa, India. Of course we had the wrong kind of visa and our ship, using the Mr. Scott method of timing (Scotty we need power now. Captain it’ll take 10 hours. Captain we got it done now!) getting the correct Visa was pretty easy.

We had booked a non-ship tour of Goa. Only 10 of us on the bus made the day very nice. Lots of good conversation and sharing about what we saw. My impression of Goa: it was nice. Lots of vacationers from around India, narrow roads, a huge contrast between middle class housing and shanties, and the richness of nature left a wonderful, colorful, and complex image.

The next day we landed in Mumbai. Again, we had booked a non-ship tour. This time a tour of Jewish Mumbai with city highlights. It was just the two of us and nothing like I expected. Our tour guide Hannah Shapurkar was incredible (contact me directly if you need a tour guide in Mumbai or around the country for her contact information.) A member of the Bene Israel community, married to another member of the community, provided us with a depth of understanding of the inner workings of the community and its history.

The Bene Israel arrived in India in 132 B.C.E.. They were fleeing from the oppression of the Seleucid Empire. Their boat was wrecked and only 7 families survived. Those seven families created a community that has lasted for over 2100 years. In the 19th Century the Baghdadi Jews arrived from Persia, Iraq, and what are now the Gulf States. Led by the Sassoon family, they built their own community and helped the Bene Israel with theirs. Many of the Baghdadi Jews left with the British but their legacy remains through their buildings and foundations they left behind.

We visited the 2 Bene Israel synagogues in Mumbai. In the first, the oldest dating from the 1700’s, I found myself infused with the soul of a 2100 year old community. Now, Sephardic in worship, their commitment to maintain their community is palpable. Here is a Shabbat message video I took in the synagogue. I apologize for the sound. I had to speak quietly.

We also visited the Sassoon synagogue and day school. A more elaborate building it too had its uniqueness. The school was built as what we would call a Jewish Day School. Now, there are only 12 Jewish students. The majority of the rest are Muslim and the balance are Hindu. The sight of Muslim mothers in full burkas waiting to pick up their children from a Jewish school instilled me with a hope for the future. I have felt that hope missing in recent months.

While I did not care if I ever visited Mumbai, I am glad beyond words that I did.

Returning to the ship I led the lighting of the first Chanukah candle, a symbol of hope and blessing. The perfect end to a perfect day.

We are sailing for Oman. Two days at sea before we arrive.


Sunday, October 1, 2017

Erev Yom Kippur 5778
Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld
Congregation Albert

Albuquerque, NM

Art Garfunkel just published a new memoir. So of course I have been thinking about my favorite Simon and Garfunkel songs. There was a time in my life when my favorite song was “The Boxer.” Its depth and meaning suffused my soul with young adult angst. And then, there was the mystery of the missing verse.

Yes, that illusive verse, that rumor held, was the final straw that led to the demise of the greatest duo of all time. On the original single and album versions there is that haunting flute solo, (pause for flute). But with the Concert In Central Park, the veil lifted and revealed some of the truest, most depressing words ever written:

Now the years are rolling by me
They are rocking evenly
I am older than I once was
And younger than I'll be
But that's not unusual
No, it isn't strange
After changes upon changes
We are more or less the same
After changes we are
More or less the same

(Invite everyone to sing La La La...)

If changes upon changes leave us more or less the same why do we come here each Yom Kippur, year after year, hoping, praying, dreaming to be better. To be different. Why is it that people, including every one of us, never seem to change?

Rabbi Shai Held of Mechon Hadar in Jerusalem posits four ways of thinking about this question. Why people do not change?

First - That’s just who I am. - I hate myself when I use this to explain my behavior. I was born this way (the nature argument) or, my upbringing made me this way (the nurture argument). In the 12th Century, the RaMBaM, Moses Maimonides wrote his code of Jewish law, the Mishnah Torah. The first two laws in the laws of repentance tackle the issue of nature versus nurture:

With regard to all the traits: a person has some from the beginning of his conception, in accordance with his bodily nature. Some are appropriate to a person's nature and will [therefore] be acquired more easily than other traits. Some traits he does not have from birth. He may have learned them from others, or turned to them on his own. This may have come as a result of his own thoughts, or because he heard that this was a proper trait for him, which he ought to attain. [Therefore,] he accustomed himself to it until it became a part of himself.”

This sounds as depressing as Paul Simon’s lyrics. We are born with or learn or take on negative characteristics. It is easy to say: “That’s just who I am.” But, what responsibility do we have if these things are embedded within us?

The television show E.R. answered this question for me. George Clooney’s character, Dr. Doug Ross, blames his father for all his negative traits. The womanizing, the difficulty forming lasting relationships, lack of impulse control. Clooney lays into his father on a bridge overlooking the Chicago river. At the end of the tirade establishing his father as the cause for all his issues, his father looks at him and says (and I paraphrase): Your first 18 years were my responsibility. Since then it is on you. You do not like who you are, be a grown up and find the strength to change.

Ah - were it only that easy. Our habits are deeply engrained in our being. Even if the will to change is strong, we may need help and support. Maybe that is why we gather as a community on Yom Kippur; to find that support.

Second - We are fixed and immutable. Here I am going to stick closely to Rabbi Held’s teaching. He refers to the verse in Deuteronomy when Moses says to the Israelites: “I was standing between you and God at Sinai that day.” The Hebrew used for the word “I” is - אנכי,(Anochi) not the simpler and more common אני. In fact, אנכי usually occurs when God speaks in the 1st person as in the 10 commandments! אנכי I am Adonai your God.

Rabbi Held points out that Chassidic tradition teaches that from his ego Moses’ uses the word אנכי as if to say: “I am on par with God.” From this perspective, in order to leave behind our negatives, we have to be willing to let go of who we think we are and let go of the stories we think define us.

Rabbi Held teaches that the Chassidic master, Rabbi Levi of Berdychiv would have the same conversation with himself each night. “Tomorrow I am going to behave differently, better.” One of his students overheard Reb Levi repeat this each night. Finally he approached the Rebbi: “Master, you said that last night.” the Berdychiver replied: “Yes, but tonight I mean it.” We want to change. Usually we do not. But we can. We are capable of change.

Third: We see freedom as a right. - When it comes to Liberty and Justice For All, freedom is a right. When it comes to our personal behavior we do not have the right to act anyway we please. For most of our history, Judaism extolled the blessing of free will. Judaism also taught that with free will comes responsibility for our choices and accepting the consequences that result.

The great Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik taught: “Free will should implant in man [sic]... a continuous awareness of maximal responsibility… without even a moment’s inattentiveness!... It is a positive commandment to be conscious of the existence of free choice which makes man [sic] responsible for his actions... One is forbidden to take one’s mind off the principle of free choice, for it was not given to man [sic] only from without or by tradition; it is also something in the nature of self-discovery and must always remain part of the self—the knowledge that man [sic] can create worlds and destroy them.”

How to cultivate responsibility? Start slowly. Look at the ice-cream case. Decide what you would like and walk away. Ice-cream does not do it for you? Pick something that does and work your way up from there.

Fourth and finally, We are reluctant to delve deeply into ourselves. - we know that everybody recites each of the על חייט (Al Cheit) confessions even if we did not commit that sin, just in case we did, and it is certain someone in our community did. “The ways we have wronged You by hardening our hearts...through gossip and rumor...through violence and abuse, through dishonesty in losing self control”

Conducting business honestly may be easier than not losing self control, but both represent deeper parts of ourselves that need repair, that need healing. 

If you have a crack in the foundation of your house, you can seal it. It is not hard. Even I can do it! But, chances are that another crack will open if you do not find the cause of the crack. Sealing the crack is like changing a behavior. Preventing other negative behaviors from replacing it requires a deeper inquiry into who you are. Fixing the manifestations only allows other manifestations to surface. We need to go deeper into ourselves to find what is broken and mend it.

Another example: We talk about people who quit smoking eating more. This is based in reality. The presenting addiction, smoking, is replaced by a seemingly more benign addiction, eating. But, as most recovering addicts will tell you, they are still addicts.

Making deep and lasting changes requires courage. Looking into our own abyss is scary and we risk getting lost. We know that courage does not equal being fearless. Courage is about how one deals with the fear. Again, perhaps we join together on Yom Kippur to support each other in facing our fears. When asked how do two people find their way out of a forest, the Kotsker, Rabbi Menachem Mendl of Kotsk answered, “Join hands and find the way together.” 

Looking into ourselves, we ask “Who am I?” If you know the answer, your ego, your אנכי is getting in the way. The proper answer, the liberating answer, to “Who am I?” - “I’m not sure.” Uncertainty, combined with curiosity and a desire to be better drives us deeper to really change. And then, once you repair that level of depth, the curiosity and desire to be better drive you deeper to a new place of “I’m not sure.” and you find something else needing change.

Another time the Kotsker was asked: “What does it mean to really take awe of God seriously.” He replied: “Working on myself. It is a great sin to see yourself as a finished product.”

When a student asked: “Who is a good Jew?” He answered: “Anyone who wants to be.” The student asked: “Who would not like to be a good Jew?” The Kotsker answered: “Someone who thinks he already is.”

This Yom Kippur may we face ourselves. May we go deep. Let us hold each others’ hands as we find our way together. May we be blessed that after changes upon changes we are no longer more or less the same.
Yom Kippur Morning 5778
Rabbi Harry Rosenfeld
Congregation Albert

Albuquerque, NM

Michele and I invited some friends from out of town to come with us on the congregation’s Israel trip this coming April. (There is still time to sign up. Information is on the table in the rotunda!) They sent an email a few weeks ago outlining the reasons they did not want to go.

  1. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s right wing government’s treatment of Israeli Arabs and obvious disdain of any kind of meaningful peace process.
  2. The numerous corruption scandals concerning Prime Minister Netanyahu and his family, including his son’s recent anti-Semitic online posts, and his using the defense of “it is my enemies spreading fake news.”
  3. The Israeli government’s kowtowing to the Orthodox parties for decades and denying equal rights to non-Orthodox Jews most recently by reneging on an agreement to establish an egalitarian prayer area at the Kotel - the Western Wall.
  4. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s claim to be the Prime Minister of all the Jews.  They did not have the opportunity to vote for him so he cannot represent him. (I know Mr. Netanyahu claims that title, but I cannot imagine anyone actually wanting it!)

I agree with every single point except the part about not going to Israel. Like many of you, my consciousness of Israel began in 1967 with the Six Day War. Looking back, I can count on one hand, with fingers to spare, the number of years there was an Israeli government the majority of whose policies I agreed with, and yet, the current government is, in my opinion, the worst and most corrupt ever. When I recently addressed the Southwest Hispanic Leadership Council of AIPAC I said so clearly and without hesitation.

And now, to paraphrase the immortal Paul Harvey, here is the rest of the story which I also told it to the Hispanic Leadership Council.

I love Israel. Let me tell you about the Israel I love.

Fifty years ago this past June, the Israel I love rescued 300 Vietnamese boat people. In fact it was Menachem Begin’s first official act to instantly make them citizens of Israel.

The Israel I love brought to Israel and saved 135,000 Ethiopian Jews and many of their non - Jewish family members. Their integration into Israel has not been perfect and often times difficult but they are full and equal citizens. 

The Israel I love sponsors camps, schools and nature programs bringing diverse groups of young people together to see each other as human beings and break the cycle of indoctrinated hate. Camps like ILAN bring disabled Jewish, Arab and Palestinian children together across the country. Wings of Peace brings Jewish and Arab middle and high school students together throughout the year and for a week each summer to learn to see each other as individuals.

The Israel I love comes up with cutting edge treatments for cancer, Alzheimer’s, ALS and Parkinson’s.

The Israel I love sends humanitarian aid and assistance to any country that needs it and will accept it. They have sent rescue workers to Haiti, numerous African countries, Japan, and even the United States. They work in Gaza bringing humanitarian aid.

The Israel I love is providing life-saving medical treatment to over 3000 Syrian refugees. Ismael Haniyeh, the leader of Hamas who has sworn to destroy Israel, sent his mother-in-law, daughter, and granddaughter to Israeli hospitals. They were admitted and treated without hesitation.

The Israel I love will take in me, and every other Jew, if, God forbid, we ever need to flee.

The Israel I love is the only place in the Middle East where the LGBTQ community has equal rights and can live openly. There are pride parades in almost every major Israeli city, including Jerusalem.

The Israel I fear for has ISIS, Syrian, Russian, and soon, Iranian forces on her borders.

The Israel I fear for is one that continues to be led by those who think the only way to survive is to copy the militaristic and discriminatory regimes of the Middle East.

The Israel I yearn for transforms me from a member of a minority into a member of the majority sensitizing me to understand what it means to be both a minority here and, as a caucasian, a member of the majority.

The Israel I yearn for no longer needs to be a refuge for the oppressed of our people and all others.

The Israel I yearn for is no longer seen as a pariah.

The Israel I yearn for is home to some dear friends.

The Israel I yearn for is my home and yet it is not.

The Israel I hope for finally grants religious freedom to all, including non-Orthodox Jews.

The Israel I hope for looks into its ethical heart and finds a way to make peace with its Palestinian neighbors.

The Israel I hope for leads the world in pursuing justice and making peace.

The Israel I hope for is one that fulfills the prophecy of being a light unto the nations.

כן יהי רצוןSo may it be soon and in our day.

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.