Something to Read…

This past week, I finished reading Parker Palmer’s magnificent book on the inner life of teachers entitled The Courage to Teach.   When I read the Afterword to this 10th anniversary edition, I came across a quote that I thought could not be more appropriate to the challenges facing Jewish institutions and communities in the twenty-first century.  Regarding the guiding values of any profession, Palmer writes the following:

  • “At the heart of every profession is an implicit affirmation that the mission of the profession must never be confused with the institutional structures in which it is ursued. The fact that we have school does not mean that we have education. The fact that we have hospitals does not mean we have health care. The fact that we have courts does not mean we have justice. The fact that we have churches, synagogues, and mosques does not mean we have faith” (Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach).

What I loved about Palmer’s quote was that he captured the essential task of a professional never to link completely one’s principles with one’s institutions.  Just as we cannot say that the existence of a court system ensures justice, we also cannot that because a person happens to work in a place that offers a tefillah experience does not mean that rich tefillah takes place in that institution.  Our task is to ensure that the institution embodies the values that ought to exist within it, and most noble task for everyone working in the Jewish community today, whether we are concerned with tefillah, Talmud Torah, social justice, or whatever guiding value is meant to underlie our mission.   May we all be worthy of that task…

Fasting for Peace, Fasting for Compromise

November 5th marks the English anniversary of the assassination of Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, one of the greatest tragedies in the history of modern Jewry.   For many Jews, this horrific event necessitated a ritual response through our Jewishtradition, leading many people to argue that one should fast on Yitzhak Rabin’s Yahrtzeit, drawing a connection between Rabin’s assassination and the murder of Gedaliah, a Jewish governor who was assassinated in the period following the destruction of the First Temple in 586 BCE.   Read my article for the Joint Distribution Committee about the connection between Tzom Gedaliah and Yitzhak Rabin, and what we might learn from the overlapping themes between these events.

A Kavannah for Our Shabbat Tables After Hurricane Sandy

“But as for me, distressed and in pain–may your salvation, God, protect me” (Tehillim/Psalms 69:29).

Our God and God of Our Ancestors,

So often when we gaze into the heavens, we are reminded of the awesome power of the world in which we inhabit. Yet just as that world brings beauty and grandeur, our world can also be a place of destruction.

This past week, we’ve seen destruction in our planet, our communities, our streets, and even our own homes, and been forced to ask ourselves how to repair what has been broken, and how to rebuild that which has been torn down. And as we see our own brokenness, we see that brokenness shared with others.

As we begin the slow road to recovery, may we take this opportunity to use this disaster to recognize the blessings in our own lives, and what it means to share blessings, shelter, and support with others. May we share our water, our homes, our heat, and our compassion with one another, and ensure that those who need us do not feel alone. The blood to be donated, the clothing to be provided, the structures to be rebuilt, all of these things remind us that our most basic needs are shared, yet too easily taken for granted. In our time of need, our obligation is to care for our loved ones, while not forgetting our wide circle of obligation.

If we might find good in this tragedy, may we find it through the bonding and bridging that takes place when a community looks out for one another, and comes together to bring healing. As we are taught,

  • “Two are better than one, because they have a good reward for their labor. For if they fall, the one will lift up his fellow; but woe to him that is alone when he falls, for he has not another to help him up” (Kohelet/Ecclesiastes 4:9-10).
As we enter Shabbat, may this disaster compel us to come closer together, to serve one another, and to strengthen the kehillah kedoshah (holy community) that finds hope amidst despair.  May it happen soon, and speedily, in our days.   Amen.

A New Website…

After several years of sharing my professional material on another website platform, I recently decided to change platforms to create a more polished looking homepage that allows readers to better access my material and other related website content.   As always, I hope that this website will help you learn a little more about me, and will give me an opportunity to dialogue with you.

If you are interested in reading some of my previous material, you should feel to click on this link and visit my old website.

Shabbat Shalom,

Josh