TBJ Blog

Letter from our Clergy about Oklahoma Tornado

May 22nd, 2013 | posted by Rabbi Matthew A. Reimer | Email Me

We are both shocked and saddened by the news, the images and the stories that have been coming out of the devastation from Monday’s massive tornado in Oklahoma. Dozens were killed, thousands have been displaced, and there has been widespread destruction of homes, schools, hospitals, offices and infrastructure. As a religious community, it is our moral imperative for us to act in doing our part to help in any way possible.

The Union for Reform Judaism (URJ) is accepting donations in the wake of the deadly tornado and is working closely with our congregations in the affected region to assure the safety of their congregants, their neighbors, their structures and to determine next steps in relief work. For now, TBJ and the URJ will collect donations and distribute them to the American Red Cross and others on the ground in Oklahoma. As other needs arise, perhaps including volunteers to assist with the clean-up and rebuilding, we will, of course, stand ready to help in any way possible.

Visit their website to make an online donation:

urj.org/socialaction/issues/relief/ 

Please make checks payable to:

Union for Reform Judaism

ATTN: Oklahoma Tornado Relief

633 Third Avenue

New York, NY  10017

Our tradition teaches us that in one way or another, we are all responsible for each other. In that spirit, our thoughts and prayers go out to all those impacted by this horrific tragedy.

Terror in Boston

April 17th, 2013 | posted by Rabbi Matthew D. Gewirtz | Email Me

 

I have to admit I forgot that the marathon was happening two days ago in Boston.  Months ago, Lauren and I happily supported the cause for which our dear friend was running the Boston Marathon, but then I did what the rest of us do….I got caught up in what was happening in our own circles.  My handheld device beeped in the early afternoon and I was reminded there was a race because two winners were announced.  They finished in an outlandishly short amount of time and I then remembered that our friend, Eric had written that he expected to finish at about “four hours and a few minutes”.

Then, a couple of hours later, every device I own beeped to announce that two bombs exploded at the Finish Line of the a race.

At first, I experienced a mild form of existential vertigo.   There was a sense of déjà vu I had not felt since the events of September 11, 2001.  I do not compare the two events in terms of enormity both in terms of loss of life and shear degree of destruction.  But I experienced that spiritual and emotional chill that I felt down my back over a decade ago. 

I could not help, but to first fear for my dear friend, who I realized predicted his finish the same time the bombs exploded.  Lauren was already on it and somehow, we received word over email that I am, “okay, but freaked”.  I was relieved for him, but was frightened to see on screen what it was that made him “freaked”.  My imagination ran wild.  I wondered how many were killed; how many were maimed; how many lives would be forever changed.  I wondered and I worried and I prayed for those out to celebrate an age-old, Boston tradition, but instead had their lives punctuated with terror.  There is no way their lives will ever be the same: Those who were directly hit; those who saw it all; those who could have been hit and somehow for some reason were not.  All of them will never be the same.  And, on a smaller scale, we too, once again, will not be the same. 

We have no idea yet who committed this cowardly act.  I believe in our law enforcement officials.   We need to let them do their work and we should be patient and lend them our support. 

In the meanwhile, our job is to be thankful that we live in a free country.  That freedom comes at a precious cost, but we need to celebrate our freedom daily.  This is also a time which reminds us to hold our loved ones….we need to embrace them, tell them we love them; and take the opportunity to reconcile with those with whom we know we need to be connected.

Our fear cannot paralyze us.  I say above that I am frightened.  There are insane people who have no compunction about taking innocent life.  But terrorism wins when we stay at home.  We have to be prudent, but at the same time, we need to live our lives fully.  We should go to the movies, malls, stadiums and run marathons.  We should help our law enforcement officials by adding extra eyes to their complicated jobs.  Their jobs are not only complicated, but once again, I am heartened to have watched them do what is counterintuitive for most of us.  While, most would legitimately run away, they ran towards the explosion.  Police, firefighters and brave citizens saved lives while they risked their own.  In the midst of the darkness, their bravery can give us a sense of light and hope when it still feels dark.

This morning, as Jake and I watched SportsCenter, he wanted to know why there was an emblem which showed the hated Red Sox next to the Yankees emblem, especially when, “we are not even playing the Red Sox this week”.  I explained that opponents in sports are not enemies, they are just opponents.  The enemies are the ones who robbed us of more innocence this week.  It’s too bad because it would be lovely if the enemies in our world could simply be the teams we play from other cities.  But life is indeed more complicated than that.  So, I told him that for a while, we don’t have to root for the Red Sox, but we will certainly root for Boston to heal…or as some have said, for a while, we can say Boston is us and we are Boston.  They are hurting and it is our job to help them and our country heal.  In turn, we too, will heal.

I quote the leader of our Movement when I say:  “We are reminded that the Holy One has implanted within us the power of healing. As individuals and as communities, may we be sources of God’s healing presence. May we heal each other. May we heal this world.”

Dear Pope Francis: A Sincere Letter from a Faithful Fellow Servant

March 17th, 2013 | posted by Rabbi Matthew D. Gewirtz | Email Me

Dear Pope Francis: A Sincere Letter from a Faithful Fellow Servant

Posted to Pope Francis at the Vatican; delivered as a Sermon on Friday, 3/15/13,

Congregation B’nai Jeshurun

Your Holiness… Dear Pope Francis:

In the words of my people, I wish you a hearty Mazel Tov on your election as leader of the Catholic Church.  Indeed, may God bless you with fortitude, guidance, wisdom and insight.

As a Jew, I have to tell you how moved I was by your election.  I tuned in to whatever media was available each time smoke was to come from the foretelling chimney above the Sistine Chapel.  I am not a Christian and don’t know nearly enough about Catholic rites, but I was fascinated and moved by your ancient and somehow, still relevant rituals.  When it was announced that white smoke was indeed rising from the depths of your age-old conclave, I shivered with anticipation and hope.  I wondered and worried; I was excited and concerned.

I got home on time to watch with the world as we wondered about your identity.  For 45 minutes, so few knew who would ascend to your holy place.  The pundits started to spin their talking heads.  The television remained on, but my mind’s voice became louder than the white noise of the media’s rhetoric.  I did not want to hear about the politics of your election.  Instead, I tried to imagine what it must have felt like to be you in those moments of the in-between; that period of time when you went from eminent cardinal to holy pontiff.

I wonder what it felt like when they asked you, “Are you prepared to accept the responsibilities of being our next Pope”?  I wondered what you felt like when they asked you, “By what name will you now be known?”

I thought of you as you left your colleagues and went to the Room of Tears to don your Papal garments.  Did you shed tears in the room meant for crying?  Were they tears of joy and accomplishment; of dread and fear; of excitement and hope; of anticipation of the unknown?  Did you feel alone?  You who will now sit on the throne of St. Peter; do you feel closer to God than before; or are you searching in ways you have never knew you had to until your ascension to the Papacy?

“With joy, we announce that we have a new Pope”.  Your name was mentioned; and you appeared and I had no idea who you were and where it is that you came from.  I heard the name and your place of origin.  And, I still did not know anything about you, but I was moved that you are the first to come from the hemisphere in which I reside…..moved that your papacy would represent the millions of Latinos who have flocked to Catholicism in recent years.

With humility, I commend you on your start.  It could not have gone any better.  You were introduced to the throngs of people in Vatican Square and to millions on television; and you appeared as a humble servant of God.  There was more awe emanating from your eyes than there was arrogance; more headiness than haughtiness.  You presented as gentle and kind.  Your measured smile was inviting and pastoral.  You waved in gratitude and wonder at the moment.

With grace you asked the world to pray for you in order than you could pray for the world.  You let us know that without the blessings of your people, you might not be able to properly bless your people in return.

Your resume for the job is appropriate in the most sacred of manners.  You are a man of the people; not above your people.  You have chosen the bus, over of the limousine.  Your first order of business when you awoke the day after your election was to stop at your hotel and settle your bill.  You made us understand that all of our accounts should be clean, no matter our office or station.

I am moved by your past.  You can’t stand the hypocrisy which manifests in injustice.  You refuse to accept the poverty which is oh so pervasive in our world.  You, like the prophets of old, wrap and unwrap the wounds of our sickest and weakest.  You could be found in the AIDS ward, first washing and then kissing the feet of the sickest, letting them and us know that they too deserve comfort and love and healing.

So, your Holiness, I pray for you.  I pray for you because your people need you; and frankly, so does the world.  I pray for you because the challenges which lie ahead are like facing Goliath again.  I pray for you to bring healing to a faith to which so many would come flocking back in return if they could find trust once again.

I respect that you attach yourself to Divine doctrine, but I pray that you are able to understand the evolving nature of religion in our world.  To get stuck in the black and white will be to lose good and decent people who want to be Catholic, but have found it sometimes untenable.

With deep humility and respect, I pray that you find subtle paths to dialogue about the ability for your holy servants to marry and have families.  You have a shortage of religious leaders because good and decent religious folk do not want to commit their lives to the Cloth if that cannot be accompanied by a life of romance and family.  I assure you, with all of my challenges, I am a better servant of God; exactly because I have covenanted with my beloved and have created children in God’s image.

More, I pray that you see the urgency and the need for the ordination of women.  I can tell you from working with the best, that there is something organic and intrinsic that a woman can offer spiritually that we men just don’t get.  They want and deserve to serve as equal to men.  My heart, head and spirit tell me that God does not distinguish.

I pray that you make room in the Church for your Gay and Lesbian followers who are yearning for your embrace.  They want so badly to be accepted in the Church which brought them up.  They feel rejected not just by people, but by God; because too many of your Priests make them feel like there is something wrong with them by virtue of their biological makeup.

And probably most important, my spiritual brother, I pray that you find the fortitude; the gumption; the intestinal strength, the obvious wisdom, that the Church must be cleansed of sexual predators.  To commit such deeds is sinning in the name of God.  But, to knowingly protect such pathological criminals is to be complicit.  It is not protecting the Church to hide and absolve such predators.  Instead it mires the church in sin and deception.  Authentically religious people come clean and lead by example.  I know it is not just priests, but I will tell you that any time any clergy member crosses that kind of line, every member of any faith group wonders and worries about their own.  It is bad for religion and I pray, for all of us committed to service, that you cleanse the Church once and for all.

Finally, dear Pope Francis, as a Jewish leader, I am thankful that you have stood up so steadfastly in your home country for my people.  Our history has not always been so kind.  Many of my people have been oppressed and murdered in the name of Church sponsored anti-Semitism.  Great leaders, like Pope John Paul II; Benedict IVI and our own local Cardinals have pledged themselves, as we have to them, to a warm and open interfaith relationship.  We have been called your elder sibling and are honored to be part of your family.  I urge you to visit our Holy Land.  I urge you to pray with us.  I urge you to support our Homeland and help us find peace.

Your People need you.  You need your people.  We need each other.  And God needs for all of that to be true if our divine universe is to survive.

Your Holiness, Mazel Tov to you.  My community and I wish you only the best.  May God Bless you and keep you.  May the Divine Countenance be lifted and bring you compassion.  Most of all, may God grant you the most precious gift of all, the gift that we call Shalom….that we call Salaam….that we call wholeness….that we call balance….that we can all together call peace.

With Faithful Respect,

Matthew D. Gewirtz

Senior Rabbi, Congregation B’nai Jeshurun

Short Hills, New Jersey, United States of America

On Today’s Shooting in Connecticut

December 14th, 2012 | posted by Rabbi Matthew D. Gewirtz | Email Me

As tears stream down my face, I feel a sense of spiritual vertigo and existential nausea. 

As the news reached me of the school shooting in Connecticut, I could not help but to reach for my phone to make sure none of the victims were family members.  Lauren grew up in the same county of the shooting.  I then wondered and worried about the welfare of my own children.  Once I moved passed the innocent faces of my kids, I took a deep breath, and realized that these poor souls, whose lives were so insanely snuffed out, are indeed members of our American family.  They live in a different state, in a different town and village, but they are us; and we are collectively sickened that it is now almost a monthly occurrence  (twice this week) that precious children are being taken from us because of pathological violence.

I often talk to you about the fragility of life, but this feels like it crosses a sacred boundary to the unfathomable.  Our elementary schools are just a step away from the loving embrace of our pre-schools.  There is an innocence which we assume about children of this age level.  They learn academics, but they are still learning, also, how to share and interact; how to socialize and evolve as people of the world.  And in the midst of the supposed security of childhood, a madman comes into their learning place and robs them and their families of life and emotional stability.  Those who were lost today can never be replaced.  Those who survived will live an altered trajectory because of the violent and vivid imagery which will remain with them until the end of their days.  May God bless their souls and send healing to those navigating the abyss.

Like you, I am wondering how it is that I will speak to my own children about today’s events.  For now, please see the following link. http://www.ivillage.com/how-talk-kids-about-school-shooting/6-a-433105  This will give you a decent start to what I know will be a complicated and difficult conversation.  Please know that all of us, clergy, educators and social workers, are here to help you through follow-up conversations. 

As you and I wonder and worry about security, I want to make sure you know that after I heard the news, I immediately called our ECC team under the leadership of Barbara Hochberg and Michele Feingold, our Executive Director, Alice Lutwak and will be in touch this afternoon with our new Religious School Director, Sarah Hanuka.  They have assured me that our building is always locked during school hours(except when we have our armed security guard at the front door).  All other doors are locked at all times.  As well, please know that because of a grant which we received from the Department of Homeland Security, we installed numerous cameras around our campus this past summer, which stream directly into our main office and are monitored throughout each day.  Finally, we have firm evacuation and lock down procedures in place.  Barbara has informed me that these procedures will be reviewed this coming Monday morning with the ECC faculty.  Finally, we will gather as a staff with our security folks(in cooperation with our local police) to see if there is more we can do to be prudent.  We assure you, your children….our children, are our first priority.

I wish we could change the face of this day.  All we can do is stand with each other….up for each other…………hold one another……and make sure we work everyday as a community to make our country the safe place it should be for our children to grow freely and sweetly and naturally.

As this Shabbat approaches, please join me in praying for the sweet souls lost today.  Let us also pray for the broken hearts of their families.  Let us pray for the broken innocence of the survivors.  And let us pray for healing for our national spirit, which feels cracked on this dark day.  May God bless the United States of America

An Interfaith Statement re: the Shooting at a Sikh Temple

October 12th, 2012 | posted by Rabbi Matthew A. Reimer | Email Me

Dear Congregational Family,

While our thoughts and prayers continue to be with the victims and their families in Aurora, Colorado, another senseless act of violence struck our country this past Sunday at the Sikh Religious Society in Brookfield, Wisconsin.

Regardless of whether the victims were targeted because of their religion, because of how they looked or otherwise, what is behind this chapter of violence during these past few weeks – of insane and dark behavior – is hatred. And it is this hatred that we stand united against.

Our people know far too well what it means to be targets of hatred, and so we stand, side by side, with those of different faiths, or no faiths at all, as one nation, as one community.

Our Tradition teaches: Kol Yisrael Aravim Zeh B’Zeh (All Israel is responsible for one another.) This is not just a statement. It is a promise. It is a covenant that each of us – as TBJ members – share with each other.

Please take a moment and read the attached Interfaith statement about the shooting at the Sikh Religious Society, and remember that your TBJ Family is here for each of you.

Interfaith Statement

And please join us in prayer for their victims and their families, and may God bless then United States of America.

Warmly,

Rabbi Matthew D. Gewirtz

Cantor Howard M. Stahl

Rabbi Matthew A. Reimer

Rabbi Karen R. Perolman

London 2012

July 26th, 2012 | posted by | Email Me

With the London Olympics beginning in just under twenty-four hours, I wanted to highlight for you some of the Jewish athletes that have a chance of medaling during the Summer Games.

Before sharing the stories of these athletes, I feel that it is necessary to remember the eleven Israelis, (three weightlifters, two wrestlers, one fencer, three coaches and two officials, as well as the one German police officer) who were murdered by terrorists forty years ago at the 1972 Summer Olympics in Munich. There have been appeals to the International Olympic Committee (IOC) to observe a moment of silence at the opening ceremonies in memory of these victims. However, the IOC has declined this request and instead held a moment of silence this past Monday at the opening of the Olympic village. For me, it is extremely disappointing that the IOC will not hold a moment of silence, it makes no political statement, it simply asks citizens of the  world, to pause and remember the lives lost and the great sorrow of this tragic event in Olympic history.

While the IOC will not be holding a moment of silence, Bob Costas on the NBC broadcast of the ceremonies will mark the tragic event that took place forty years ago. The TBJ community at Shabbat evening services, along with many other synagogues around the world, will also be remembering this horrific event in history.

The Jewish athletes who are competing in these summer Olympics will be keeping the memory of those murdered alive through their determination, their athleticism, and their heart.

Here are just a few of those athletes:

The Israeli delegation to London has 37 athletes competing in 9 different sports. Experts believe that Alice Schlesinger and Arik Zeevi are two of the best chances for Israel to medal at these Games. Both Alice and Arik will be competing in Judo and have won medals during European championships. While I don’t know anything about Judo, I know that I’ll be cheering these two Israelis on (and the rest of the Israeli delegation) and hoping for gold.

Aly Raisman, an 18 year-old gymnast from Massachusetts, is probably the most recognizable Jewish athlete at the games. This is especially true when you watch her floor exercise which is to the tune of Hava Nagilah. Aly will be doing flips and hopefully helping the US Women’s Gymnastics Team stand on top of the podium.

This will be Jason Lezak’s fourth Olympic games. And he is no stranger to the medal podium he has already won seven medals. He will be hoping to make that eight, when he swims in the 4X100 freestyle relay in London.

And we can’t forget our neighbor to the north. Representing Canada Josh Binstock will be competing in beach volleyball. I didn’t know there were beaches in Toronto for Josh to practice on, but this 31 year-old Torontian will be bumping, setting, and spiking for that Gold medal.

We wish these athletes and all athletes luck as they compete in these Summer Games.

Reflections on Shooting in Aurora

July 23rd, 2012 | posted by Rabbi Matthew D. Gewirtz | Email Me

I wish I could write to you with answers.  Instead, I write to you with the same anguish in my heart that so many of you feel in your own hearts.

On one surreal level, this kind of incident is becoming such a regular part of our national landscape that when such an occurrence comes across the news wire, I am numb and almost used to it.  That is the part of me that wants to create distance because the pain is just too profound.  And then, I watch and read.  I watch the pain stricken expressions of disbelief and horror on the faces of survivors; of family members whose lives are changed forever in a simple and complex instant.  I read of Americans like you and me who simply wanted to be the first to go watch an age-old story of a superhero who magically makes our world safer from lurking villains; only to be mowed down by real life insanity and pathology.

There was bravery and courage for sure; heroes who took bullets and died for those they loved and for those who they decided to save out of their instinctive humanity.  We should salute their courageous humanity, while we pray for those who are fighting to survive physically and emotionally; and pray for those lost souls and their families who are lost in the valley of the shadow.

I am not pleased with the rush into a political debate about gun violence.  There is an important place for that discussion for sure.  We should never shy away from debating the most vital of societal issues….never!  However, as Jews we understand the wisdom of a mourning period.  We give ourselves seven days of Shiva so that we can find a way to mourn; and find a path to lending comfort and compassionate love to those who are bereft.  Let’s have the debate.  But let’s take a breath for a week to somehow first find a way to reconcile our feelings about this horrific loss and find our own ways to help through letters of comfort and financial support where needed.

To help make some sense of a grief, which is complicated, I am attaching a video link which is powerful and will be extraordinarily helpful.  This is a video of a dear member, named, Stephanie Muldberg.  She is a long time member who(with her husband, David and daughter, Lauren) lost her son, Eric to cancer at the young age of 13.  She suffered greatly and found it impossible to return to her life.  After several years, she found a doctor who unearthed a kind of grief called “complicated grief”, which simply said, describes a grief from which people cannot recover in the ways which many eventually do.  This breakthrough research has been pioneered by a doctor named, Katherine Shear.  I have met with her and her wisdom is extraordinary and her bedside manner follows suit.  The video attached is a television piece in which Stephanie and Dr. Shear appear together.  Given what has taken place this past week, their combined wisdom will lend you some comfort and also bring to light an issue which someone in your own circle of life may be experiencing.  I am proud of Stephanie’s ability to share in a way which has helped her, but will also change the lives many others.  Take the 10 minutes to watch.  It will certainly be worth your while.

In the meanwhile, please join me in praying for our fellow Americans in Aurora.

With Deep Warmth,

Matthew

watch?v=YOBlnar-65M

Does it Really Matter?

July 19th, 2012 | posted by Rabbi Karen R. Perolman | Email Me

Throughout the years I’ve thought about my Carmelians, the few hundred Carmel (8 year-old) campers, that I spent my summers with as a counselor, Assistant unit head and Unit Head at URJ Camp Harlam between 1999 and 2007. This year, I watched (thanks to the magic of facebook) as my first campers graduated from college. I kvelled as I heard of their achievements, both personal and professional. Some of my first campers are heading off to medical and veterinarian school, others are going into the working world or moving to pursue their passions. I am so so proud of them all.

And too, there are so many who I have lost touch with. Some who did not return after that first summer, or who left and only returned after I eventually ended my camp career. My last campers, who I had in 2006 and 2007, grew up in the years while I was at in rabbinical school. Once in a while I would hear of them from friends who became their counselors, but mostly they disappeared into the larger camp world.

Thinking about my campers reminds me of the famous story of Honi ha-Maagal, who wondered why one would plant a tree whose fruit he would not see come to bloom. Why invest in the planting of and tending to a tree, if we cannot be sure that it will be taken care of, that it will be watered, that it will live to thrive and bear fruit? Why plant if we have no guarantee?

This week I arrived in Israel to spend time with ten of my congregation’s teenagers who are spending their summer with NFTY in Israel. Five of them are traveling as part of the Camp Harlam group, which has given me the surprising and wonderful opportunity to see some of the fruits of trees I planted in the past. This year’s Israel group is full of my former Carmel campers, now all grown up. While I have forgotten some of their names, their faces are the same as they were at age nine. My nervous first-time campers have become confident and mature young men and women who have graduated through Harlam’s camper gates and are now embarking on the summer of their lives in their Spiritual homeland.

When I see them eating glidah (ice cream), giving each other piggy-back rides, and reminiscing about camp, I feel something indescribable, I feel like a parent, or a proud older sibling, or one who planted a seed, unsure if it would grow. My pride only increases when I hear of them wanting to return to Camp as CIT’s next year, so they can pass their love of camp onto a new generation. They will start to plant their own trees.

For all of us who dedicate ourselves to the development and strengthening of young  Jewish souls, for all of us who have asked ourselves the question: does it even matter? Does it matter if I play kickball with my bunk today? Does it matter if I engage that child sitting alone? Does it matter if I embrace that teachable moment? Does it matter if I tell that joke, or wear that silly costume, or tell that story? Does it really matter?

Yes. Yes. Yes. A million times yes.

Take it from me: the fruit is blooming all over the place.

 

This post was originally posted at Kol Isha.

The (Jewish) Month Ahead

July 18th, 2012 | posted by | Email Me

This Friday the Jewish month of Av begins. With summer in full swing and with religious school not in session, the Jewish holidays that fall during Av are not explored as much as other holidays throughout our Jewish calendar. For this reason, I wanted to take a look at ways to commemorate/celebrate two holidays that are coming up.

Tisha B’Av

On the 9th day of Av (this year July 28th), we commemorate one of the darkest times in Jewish history. Tisha B’Av is a holiday of fasting and mourning that commemorates the many tragedies that have befallen the Jewish people on this specific date. Primarily, the holiday marks the destruction of the First and Second Temples in 586 BCE and 70 CE, respectively. Although this holiday commemorates the destruction of the Temples, it also marks other tragedies throughout Jewish history that fall on the 9th of Av. Some of these tragedies include the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492 and the mass deportation of Jews from the Warsaw Ghetto in 1942.

As a Reform Jew, I have ambivalence towards this holiday. Mourning the destruction of the First and Second Temples have never been a central part of my Judaism and praying for the rebuilding of the Third Temple has not been either. 586 BCE and 70 CE are important dates in Jewish history, but I struggle with a holiday that mourns Temple era Judaism which is not consistent with the way I practice my Judaism today.

While my thoughts toward this holiday are complicated, there are different ways that people commemorate Tisha B’Av that have helped assuage some of my ambivalence. Some Jews instead of fasting for the full day of Tisha B’Av fast for half the day. By fasting for half the day they acknowledge the tragedy of losing ancient Jerusalem, but also recognize the creation and the existence of the modern state of Israel and the city of Jerusalem. Another way people commemorate Tisha B’Av is not just mourning the destruction of the Temples. People use this holiday to recognize and study other tragedies that that have taken place in our world because of senseless hatred (sinat chinam). The Talmud says that the reason why the Second Temple was destroyed because of sinat chinam.

Tu B’Av

Six days after Tisha B’Av we mark the 15th of Av, Tu B’Av, a day of love and rejoicing. This year Tu B’Av begins at sunset on August 2nd. The origin of this joyous holiday is from the Temple times when the holiday marked the beginning of the grape harvest. The Talmud writes that the “daughters of Jerusalem would go dance in the vineyards”  and “whoever did not have a wife would go there” to find himself a bride. Today in Israel, Tu B’Av is a day where many people send flowers to those they love, sing romantic songs, and it is also a very popular date to get married. Tradition also teaches us that beginning on Tu B’Av we can begin to wish one another a Happy New Year.

If you are looking for ways to celebrate Tu B’Av this year, here are two:

1. In honor of the daughters of Jerusalem dancing in the vineyards, go to your local wine store and buy an Israeli wine. I promise there are better wines than Manischewitz… Two of my favorite Israeli vineyards are Tzuba and Margalit.

2. Send a Tu B’Av card to someone that you love. Here is a link for sending an Tu B’Av ecard.

Av is a month that commemorates  mourning and leads into hope and renewal. It is also a month for synagogues to start the preparations for the High Holy Days because Av is also a signal that the Days of Awe are only two months away. AHHHHHHHH!

Is There a Prayer for July 4th?

July 2nd, 2012 | posted by | Email Me

July 4th is approaching and many of us are getting ready to light up our grills, watch the fireworks, sit on the beach, and paint our faces red, white and blue to celebrate our freedom and liberty (and maybe the summer too). While we might not think of American Independence Day as a Jewish holiday, our Jewish tradition is rich with readings and reflections on liberty and freedom that can help provide more meaning for this upcoming American holiday.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.” These words from the Declaration of Independence remind us, as Jews and Americans, to reflect on the freedoms that were unavailable to so many of our ancestors. As Jews we are fortunate to be able to pray openly in our community and are thankful that America has been an open and welcoming place for us to celebrate and create new traditions.

In Leviticus 25:10 it reads, “You shall proclaim liberty throughout the land for all its inhabitants.” On this July 4th, may this ring true! May we continue to pursue freedom for those who may be discriminated against in our own country and call out for liberty for those citizens of the world that do not have the freedoms that we cherish as Jewish Americans.

There are no specific prayers that we say to celebrate July 4th, but I wanted to offer a couple of options that I feel seem fitting for this holiday.

One could focus on a prayer found in the Shachrit (the morning prayer) service during the recitation of the Nisim B’Chol Yom (prayers for the daily miracles). We say, “Praise to You, Adonai our God, Sovereign of the universe, who has made me free.” Focusing on this one daily miracle, Praising God for our freedom and delving into the questions of what it means to be free as Jews in America and why we might say this prayer every single morning, could provide added meaning on this Independence Day.

Another prayer to mark this holiday could be “A Prayer for our Country,” found in Mishkan T’filah: A Reform Siddur on page 258. This prayer is usually said after the Torah Service but sums up many of themes of the day too.

O Guardian of life and liberty,
may our nation always merit Your Protection.
Teach us to give thanks for what we have
by sharing it with those who are in need.
Keep our eyes open to the wonders of creation,
and alert to the care of the earth.
May we never be lazy in the work of peace;
May we honor those who have died in defense of our ideals.
Grant our leaders wisdom and forbearance.
May they govern with justice and compassion
Help us all to appreciate one another
And to respect the many ways that we may serve You.
May our homes be safe from affliction and strife,
And our country be sound in body and spirit.
Amen.

I hope this July 4th is a relaxing and wonderful day. Alongside your BBQ, may you take the day to reflect on the many freedoms that we enjoy as Americans!!

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