Someday there will be something joyous and wonderful to write about – but this is not that day.
We talk here often about the tragedies and terrors affecting our nation. Shootings, and the destruction of families seem to be common themes. Until last year, it may have been possible to rationalize inaction by saying “it’s not us they are after.” We know better now.
The saddest part is that things aren’t getting better. Things seem to be getting worse. Just last week this story appeared about a young man, a young white man who was arrested in Ohio for making threats online: “A video allegedly posted by the 20-year-old New Middletown resident on July 11 on Instagram, shows him firing multiple rounds, which is legal. The caption under the post led to his arrest. It said, ‘Police identified the Youngstown Jewish Family Community shooter as white nationalist Seamus O’Reardon.’” He was bragging about what he would be remembered for.“ New Middletown Police Chief Vince D’egidio said, “He was implying that he was going to be identified as the shooter of the Jewish Center. That kicked off a very intensive investigation, a very rapidly evolving investigation.” . Thank G-d he was arrested, and a huge thank you to the New Middleton Police.
Closer to home, in June a young Concord man, a young white man (notice a pattern here?) was arrested but then released after posting bail, for posting online that “he wanted to imitate the Poway synagogue shooter “except with a Nazi uniform on” and tally “a body count of at least 30.”
This is not a coincidence. Jonathan Greenblat of the Anti-Defamation League told the L.A. Times that “In 2017, anti-Semitic incidents jumped 57% over the previous year. Hate crimes against Jews grew by 37% in the same period, according to a separate FBI analysis.” What happened at the beginning of 2017?
And then today Trump said “I think any Jewish people that vote for a Democrat, I think it shows either a total lack of knowledge or great disloyalty.”
If you aren’t involved in changing the political climate that allows, no ENCOURAGES this type of behavior (“There were some very fine people on both sides”), there is only one question. Why not? This used to be about morality. Now it is becoming about survival.
We are what we do.
– Neil Zarchin
Someday there will be something joyous and wonderful to write about – but this is not that day.
August 23, 2019 by Dean Kertesz • •
We live in a society that is obsessed with material success. We celebrate those who have amassed great wealth, built large companies, and created new innovations. Celebrities, entrepreneurs, entertainers and CEO’s hold forth on all the great questions of the day and influence the way many of us think.
This is not the Jewish way. Material success is important, but it is not the ultimate measure of human achievement.
In this week’s Torah portion we read, “He [God] subjected you to the hardship of hunger and then gave you manna to eat, which neither you nor your fathers had ever known, in order to teach you that man does not live on bread alone, but that man may live on anything that the LORD decrees.” (Deuteronomy 8:3).
Commenting on this verse, Ib Ezra (14th Cent. Spain) writes, “The sense of the verse is that Man does not live from just bread, but rather, from the energy that it contains — and could live just as well from energy that comes to us from Heaven.” In other words, a spiritual connection is as essential to life as is bread.
Building on this idea we read in Pirkei Avot (3:17) “If there is no flour, there is no Torah; if there is no Torah, there is no flour.”
In the Jewish ideal, success means a well balanced life, one that strives for material success so that one can cultivate one’s spiritual life. One without the other is an incomplete existence. Human beings must feed their bodies and their souls. That is true success.
August 16, 2019 by tbhrich • •
Halachah, Avodah, and Tikkun Olam. Temple Beth Hillel offers our community the opportunity to engage in all three. We follow Jewish tradition (each of us to whatever degree we are called to), we have Torah study every week. We gather for Kabbalat Shabbat, T’fillah during the Religious School year, and many Yamim Tovim. We are mighty in our pursuit of Tikkun Olam with our commitments to Food For Thought and social justice actions.
It’s no secret that of the three pillars, I am most called to repair the world. I was deeply moved to read this week of Jewish activists who took the time to honor Tisha b’Av, our day of mourning, by engaging in protest of some of the events that are killing love, tolerance, and humanity in our nation. On Saturday and Sunday, Aug. 10 and 11, Jewish groups around the country — T’ruah, Bend the Arc, HIAS, J Street, the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, the National Council of Jewish Women and Torah Trumps Hate — heldTisha B’Av vigils at ICE offices. In the Bay Area, vigils were held in San Francisco, Palo Alto and San Jose. The demonstrations were voicing disapproval of the government’s policy of tearing families apart when they come to our border legally requesting asylum. This inhumane practice violates the ethos of any faith. Remember what happened to the Jews who sought asylum on the St. Louis in 1939. JWeekly notes that “Tisha B’Av primarily commemorates the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, but is also used as an occasion for mourning a wide range of tragedies.” .
There is so much work to be done to repair the world. I encourage our community to connect with other organizations (Jewish or secular) and engage in Tikkun Olam of whatever cause is most important to you. If you have any questions, please contact me.
We are what we do.
Va’etchanan – Deuteronomy 3:23 – 7:11, The Parashat Ha Shavua for Shabbat, Saturday, August 17, 2019
August 16, 2019 by Dean Kertesz • •
This Shabbat is called Shabbat Nachamu, The Sabbath of Consolation, from the first words of this week’s Haftorah reading, Isaiah 40, “Comfort, oh comfort My people, says your God.”
The Haftarah and Shabbat Nahamu mark a major shift in the Jewish calendar and Jewish sacred time. Tisha b’Av was last Saturday night/Sunday. It is the lowest point in the Jewish year, the moment of the greatest distance between the Jewish people and God.
This Shabbat, with its special reading of Isaiah, marks the beginning of the rebuilding of our relationship with God. Over the next seven weeks, we will move closer together building up to the process of repentance, return and reconnection during Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
This week’s Torah portion, Va’etchanan, reinforces this growing sense of connection for it contains the Shema, (Deuteronomy 6:4) the fundamental formulation of monotheism and the Ve’ahavta (Deuteronomy 6:5-9), which commands us to be in relationship with God, with our hearts, our souls and being.
Like any relationship, our relationship with God requires work and attention. The Shema and the Ve’ahavta remind us of the necessity of this work. Our spiritual connection thrives when we work on it.
August 9, 2019 by Dean Kertesz • •
This week we begin the fifth and final book of the Torah, Devarim or Deuteronomy in English. Devarim means words in Hebrew, and Deuteronomy means second telling.
In this book Moses gives one last oration to the Israelites before they enter the land of Israel to reinforce God’s teachings. Moses fears that the Israelites will forsake their covenant with God once they enjoy material success.
This reminds us that Judaism is a fragile thread, and requires each generation’s commitment to remain part of the people and pass it on to the next generation.
This is an anxiety not just in our own time but since the beginning of our history: Jews have worried whether we will remain committed to our people and our calling. The question was as true for Moses as it is for us today.
August 8, 2019 by tbhrich • •
There’s an old Todd Rundgren song that explains how “we need just one victory and we’re on our way.” We have a victory, and important one. Today I drove past the house with the swastika in the front yard. The rumors I had heard are true – gravel has been spread throughout the yard, obscuring the symbol of hatred. Thank you to everyone who got involved, who protested, who wrote letters, who prayed for it’s removal. We are on our way.
In more good news, Temple Beth Hillel is lucky enough to have another candidate for our Cantorial position joining us for a tryout next week. Please join us on August 16 at 7:30 PM when Shayndel Adler will meet us and sing with us and worship with us. There has been no decision as yet regarding whom we will offer the job too; the door is still open. The best decisions have the most input, so please come and let the Search Committee know what you think and feel.
We are what we do.
August 2, 2019 by Dean Kertesz • •
For 2,000 years almost the entire Jewish people lived outside the Land of Israel. Beginning in the late 19th Century, following centuries of discrimination, persecution, riots, and murder, young Jews began to return to the Land of Israel to reestablish a Jewish state. Their dreams and hard labor were crowned with success with the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948.
Since then, Jews around the world have followed the struggles and fortunes of Israel closely, as if it were their own state, and in a very real sense it is a state for the entire Jewish people, not just its citizens.
Yet this support has never been automatic or universal. At the beginning of statehood, many Jewish communities, particularly in San Francisco, opposed a Jewish state fearing it would bring their loyalty into question.
Today, some Jews who oppose the policies of the Israeli government toward the Palestinians living in the West Bank and Gaza believe that a Jewish state is not moral and should cease to exist.
This week’s Torah portion reminds us that there have always been Jews who lived outside the Land of Israel. The tribes of Gad and Reuben want to remain on the East Bank of the Jordan river because it is good pasture land. Moses gives them permission on one condition: “Moses said to them, “If you do this, if you go to battle as shock-troops, at the instance of the LORD, and every shock-fighter among you crosses the Jordan, at the instance of the LORD, until He has dispossessed His enemies before Him, and the land has been subdued, at the instance of the LORD, and then you return—you shall be clear before the LORD and before Israel; and this land shall be your holding under the LORD. But if you do not do so, you will have sinned against the LORD; and know that your sin will overtake you.” (Numbers 32:20-23)
Our Torah teaches us the obligation that “All Israel is responsible, each for the other.” Those of us who live outside the State of Israel, must be engaged, seriously engaged in the life of the state. We must do our best to help Israel achieve its full potential or we miss our obligation as Jews. Just as in this week’s Torah portion our fates are intertwined… whether we like it or not.
August 1, 2019 by tbhrich • •
Thoughts and prayers don’t work. Yes, this has something to do with the shooting last weekend in Gilroy. But did you know:
- On the same day there was a shooting at a music festival in Brooklyn hat killed one and injured 11.
- AND – on the same day there was a drive-by shooting at a synagogue in North Miami that wounded a man who was walking up to the door. Police are investigating whether or not it was a hate crime.
We are witnessing what seems to be a collapse of the social order. Young men (they are almost always young men) who feel slighted or threatened by society for whatever reason decide to take out their rage on strangers. Sometimes random, sometimes targeted.
What can we do? We are working on improving the security infrastructure at TBH, but we have to balance that against our desire to be an open, welcoming community. Political activism is definitely a strategy, but most of the elected officials in our area are supportive of common sense gun regulation (which is not, I repeat NOT confiscation).
What we can do is to push back on any speech or action that dehumanizes ANYONE. If someone makes even a casual remark that stereotypes or puts down some group – speak up. Calmly and respectfully if you can.
When we work to feed students and their families over their Christmas vacation, we build community. When we make that effort with Jewish, Christian, Sikh, Muslim and non-sectarians, we build an even stronger community.
If you are passionate about any social injustice, bring it up. You may find others to work with right here at Beth Hillel – and you will build community.
Violence and hatred come from isolation. Peace comes from community.
July 26, 2019 by Dean Kertesz • •
Women are so rarely mentioned in our Torah that we remember most of their names. Sarah, Rachel, Rebecca and Leah, Miriam, Devorah, Ruth, and then? The daughters of Zelophehad, Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah are names that we don’t remember, but we should.
They challenge Moses, “Our father died in the wilderness. He was not one of the faction, Korah’s faction, which banded together against the LORD, but died for his own sin; and he has left no sons. Let not our father’s name be lost to his clan just because he had no son! Give us a holding among our father’s kinsmen!” (Numbers 27:3-4)
Moses has no answer, so he turns to God, and God answers, “The plea of Zelophehad’s daughters is just: you should give them a hereditary holding among their father’s kinsmen; transfer their father’s share to them. Further, speak to the Israelite people as follows: ‘If a man dies without leaving a son, you shall transfer his property to his daughter.’” (Numbers 27:7-8) And thus, through their willingness to assert their rightful claim, women in ancient Israel earned the right of inheritance.
It was a small step toward equality. In this moment in our history, as women assert their rightful claims to leadership, to control over their bodies, to equal pay, and just treatment, we should remember that feminism is a Jewish value, as the daughters of Zelophehad teach us.
It is incumbent on all of us men and women to support the struggle for women’s rights, because women’s rights are human rights.
July 26, 2019 by tbhrich • •
We are living in very uncertain times. The number of hate crimes has increased dramatically in the past two years. Anti-semitic hate crimes have been a significant portion of that increase. On May 2, 2019 the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reported “In New York City, more than half of all hate crimes reported in 2018 and so far in 2019 were anti-Jewish.”
We all know there have been two mass shootings at synagogues in the last nine months. We here in Richmond have been fortunate. We have not suffered a direct assault – yet. We have only had to deal with swastikas prominently displayed in our community. So we must be vigilant.
Toward that end, I am pleased to announce that Temple Beth Hillel has been awarded a $7,000 grant to support Security Infrastructure Improvements. These upgrades will include increased lighting in the parking lot and on the building perimeter, installation of a security camera system and adaptations to our electrical system to handle these changes.
Just as we are obligated to care for the poor and the stranger, we are also obligated to take care of ourselves. We at TBH do a very good job of the former. Now we can step up and do better at the latter.
We are what we do.