Sunday, April 21, 2013

Sermonic Response to Boston

Good morning all...

I normally do not post my sermons on my blog.  As well, this is an expansion on the previous blog entry "These Are the Times that Try Men's Souls."

      In the years that I have been privileged to be your rabbi, I have assiduously avoided writing specifically as an American.  I am American.  You know this.  At the same time, to speak specifically from that viewpoint all the time would put a barrier between us.  We do not want that.

        This week, please bear with me as I speak from south of the 49th. 

        A couple of people have offered me condolences due to the horrific events in Boston.  Perhaps, as an American, I feel those events differently from the rest of you.  Thank you for your concern.

        Rav Jen went to university outside Boston.  We have been there several times together.  We both love the city.  An undisturbed hour, a good book, and a thermos of coffee under a willow tree in the Public Garden may be as close to Heaven as it is possible to come on this continent. 

        Still, I want to offer my condolences as well to all of you.  After the attacks of September 11th, after the attacks in Bali, in Madrid, in London, and in Mumbai, and all of the failed attacks about which we never hear, I want to offer my condolences to you.  Every one of us is a potential soft target.  Every home, every synagogue, every office, every event at the ACC, and every subway car...each is impossible to secure.  Organizers of this summer's races here in Toronto, as well as marathons in London, are looking at their security procedures.  We have all been attacked.  Looking both ways before crossing the street is no longer just about oncoming traffic.  I offer my condolences to you in that if we thought it possible to walk blissfully through the chaos, we can cast that belief aside now, permanently.  Our innocence is again shattered.

        It is inappropriate to offer condolences without providing comfort.  So I offer words of comfort.  People ran towards those who needed help.  First responders were there, and knew exactly what to do.  Bostonians offered food, shelter, clothing, and a phone to complete strangers.  People tore their own clothing to make tourniquets.  Marathon runners finished their races, deliberately, and then rushed to donate blood.  Beyond the city limits, the New York Yankees played the theme song of the Red Sox in Yankee Stadium.  One tweet went to "anybody in Boston who is hosting people with nowhere to go...Sloshworks in Perth would love to buy you all pizza."   Similar offers came from all around the world.  Restaurants opened their doors to anyone who needed the company of other people.  Mr. Rogers tells us to "look for the helpers."  They were everywhere, in every form.

        Two people destroyed a wonderful day in a wonderful city.   Hundreds of people, a town, and a world stood up and said no.  They said that our humanity is profoundly more than thugs can ever destroy.  Comedian Patton Oswalt wrote on his facebook page a simple statement: "The good outnumber you."  And we do.

        There are all sorts of questions about how it is that our two parshiyot are connected to each other, such that they merit being a double when we have to double parshiyot.  Other double parshiyot have clear thematic connections.  This week, it seems less clear.  I would like to suggest a connection.  Ahrei Mot Kedoshim tihyu - After death, you shall be holy.  When death occurs, we should behave in a way that is holy.  We should respond with compassion.  We should respond with caring.  All of those throughout the world who have responded to this have done so.  Death occurred, and people were holy.

        There are other verses to the song "America the Beautiful."  The lyrics of the last stanza are as follows: "o' beautiful for patriot dream that sees beyond the years, thine alabaster cities gleam undimmed by human tears."  We have seen the shining acts of humanity that make Boston gleam undimmed, despite the very real human tears.  Those shining acts make every city gleam.  Look for them.  They are there.  Do them.  Make your own cities gleam.  That is the holy response to what happened in Boston.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

These Are the Times that Try Men's Souls...

So wrote Thomas Paine in his pamphlet "The American Crisis," written over 200 years ago.

I have hesitated a couple of days in writing about Boston with the idea that the picture of what happened there would clear up a bit.  I wanted to know if there was any idea of who did it.  I wanted to know if there was any connection to the attempt on the President's life, in the form of a letter laced with ricin that was sent to him.  It is 48 hours later.  It seems that not much has become more clear.

People have offered me condolences, that I might have some increased connection to what happened because I am American.  I love Boston.  I love the twisty, windy streets.  I could spend hours in the Public Garden, reading "Make Way for Ducklings" right next to the bronze statue of a mother duck and her ducklings.  That being said, I would like to return those condolences to all the Canadians who have offered them to me.  What happened was an attack on all of us.  Organizers of marathons in Toronto and in London, UK, are taking new looks at security procedures for upcoming events.  The level of vigilance must be raised by all, as all are potential targets.

I do not particularly care what the reasons for the attack might have been.  It is the attack of a coward to target unaware innocents.  No political message weighs against the life of a young boy.

As I said, not much is clear.  Let's talk about what is clear.

     People made tourniquets from their own clothing.

     The theme song of the dreaded Red Sox, "Sweet Caroline," was played at Yankee Stadium.

     Nobody has jumped to blame anyone else.

     There were offers of pizza from Perth, Australia to anyone providing shelter for strangers.

     Lessons of battlefield medicine were applied and saved countless lives.

     The people of Boston offered food, clothing, and shelter to complete strangers.

We usually only hear the first verse of "America the Beautiful."  I find the last stanza compelling.  It is printed below.

     O beautiful for patriot dream
     That sees beyond the years
     Thine alabaster cities gleam
     Undimmed by human tears.

The people of Boston will recover from this theft of their innocence. I believe this not because I believe in the people of Boston more than anyone else. Rather, it is because the FBI is presently seeking two suspects. These cowards are hiding. But the people who responded, not out of obligation to their jobs, but out of obligation to their humanity, will be too many to name them all. We will forever be haunted by the memories of those who died and were permanently maimed. We will also forever be blessed by the way ordinary people responded to extraordinary circumstances.


Monday, April 15, 2013

The Aging Warrior and the Young Prize Fighter

Top of the late afternoon to all...

Last night, Jesse and I played 11 games of ping pong.  We have these marathons.  Over the last few months, his game has improved substantially.  He plays during free time at school against multiple opponents.  I only play against him.  As such, Jesse now wins most of the time.

Jesse and I have table rules.  Games are to 21.  The margin of victory must be two points, with game over at 25.  If we manage a score of 24-24, we stop play and shake hands.  It is a way of saying that there must be a winner, but we played this one equally.

In terms of raw skill, I can no longer beat him.  He is the better player.  It is clear to all that this is the case.

Nonetheless, it is not always easy for him.  He most certainly does not win every game.  I am often able to think even when I cannot match him otherwise.

Such was the case last night.  I out-thought him.  As a result, of those 11 games, I took six of them.

My arm is sore.  It is really sore.  I can lift it, but would really rather not.  I suppose aging is better than not aging.

Have a good evening.


Saturday, April 13, 2013

Who Do They Think They Are Anyway?!

Shavua tov to all...

Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?  That is Latin for "who watches the watchpeople?"  It is an important question, pointing to the necessity of making sure that those in power do not assume absolute power.

In a democratic government, there are checks and balances between branches of the government, and a government that ultimately must answer to the people who put it in power in the first place.

Over the last several years, the group 'Anonymous' has decided that it is to be the guardian of all that is good and proper in the world.  On the off chance that some of my loyal readers are not aware of Anonymous, Anonymous is an amorphous group of expert computer hackers.  Its members are capable of hacking into the computer systems of others, stealing information, shutting down websites, etc.

During the 'Occupy' movement a couple of years ago, The city of Toronto finally decided it had to move the occupiers out of one of the city parks.  The good folks at Anonymous called it an 'interruption,' and vowed to remove Toronto from the internet.  They were unsuccessful.

Last week, they made an unsuccessful attempt to remove Israel from the internet due to what Anonymous perceived as Israel's treatment of the Palestinians.

Who made them judge, jury, and executioner?  Who made them the sole arbitrators of right and wrong in the world?  By what right do the folks of Anonymous remove anyone from the internet?

Furthermore, by not showing their faces, they are becoming like those they supposedly protest.  By not letting us know who they are, they have become a shadow government to which the world must answer.  In effect, they seek to become an unelected world dictatorship, with the power to decide policy for anyone, subject to their own whims.

I doubt that my blog is worthy of the attention of Anonymous.  On the off chance that it is, I challenge someone from that group to do two things:

1.  Show your face.  If you are so certain that Anonymous is always in the right, be brave enough to look us in the eye and say so, instead of hiding behind your computer.

2.  Respond to this blog.  Tell us all why you are in the right.

Have a good evening.


Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Anonymous and Anti-Semitism

Top of the evening all...

It has been a while since I have written.  That means you get two entries tonight.

Not every decision in life is clear-cut.  Decisions in the grey areas of life will thus leave some personal value or belief sacrificed.

One of those grey areas is the idea of criticism of Israel.  No country is perfect.  That much is clear.  Questions should be asked.  Governments should be challenged.  Israel is no different.  Failure to criticize teaches our children to accept blindly.

However, as the list of imperfections goes, Israel is far from the bottom dwellers of national imperfection.  A quick glance at the front page of any newspaper should hopefully pique your conscience and ask why Israel is so singled out for 'abuses' that are more contrivance than abuse.  In 2011, 252 people were executed in Iran.  North Korea has concentration camps.  The amount of criticism these nations receive is minimal.  Given that these nations receive so little attention, I am forced to conclude that Israel receives so much attention for other reasons.

Those other reasons made themselves quite clear this last week.  In a rather amusing game, the hackers of Anonymous (people beneath contempt) decided to hatch OpIsrael.  The goal was to remove Israel from the internet.  It seems that thus far, the most interesting piece of hacking occurred when an Israeli hacker broke into the website of Anonymous.

Timing though is everything.  I could have accepted that it was 'criticism' of Israel had they chosen a different date.  Had they elected to do this hack-attack on Yom HaAtzmaut, that would have made sense.  They instead chose Yom HaShoah, Holocaust Remembrance Day.  That is an offence against every Jew, and against every person for that matter, who had family in Europe during the 1930's and 1940's.  It has nothing in and of itself to do with Israel.  The folks at Anonymous most certainly knew the date.  That they chose it is callous, brazen anti-Semitism.  There is no other way to explain it.

The difficult decision then is that I will not take part with those who criticize Israel in public.  I will not lend support to those whose legitimate criticism is nothing more than poorly disguised anti-Semitism.  My voice will never be counted with their voice.

Have a good evening...


"Keeping the Faith" - The Movie

Hi all...

You likely have read my beloved bride's post by the same title.  If you have not, I suggest that you do so before reading this one.  It is at

I thoroughly enjoyed the movie - mostly.  There is the scene in which Ben Stiller's character brings in a gospel choir to sing the end of the service.  That was great.  But right before they enter, he runs through a list of things that they have tried to spice up the service.  Some have been good, others, "I think we can all agree that was a backwards step."  Your rabbis, and other assorted, sordid clergy, are constantly thinking about some way to keep you in the pews.

As well, I can appreciate watching a young rabbi and a young priest become slightly more seasoned.  I have been there.  I should write a book entitled "Mistakes I've Made."  Just to be on the safe side though, I will wait until after I renew my contract.  Luckily for me, it is a thin book...okay - maybe not.

The dangers of rabbi should ever go to a congregation single.  It is a minefield.  I am happy that I came to my professional life already married.  What happens when the president does not understand why the rabbi has no desire to date his child?  What happens when the rabbi breaks up with the president's child?  The movie dealt well with some of the minefield issues.

My issues are two.  the first is that the rabbi in the movie is willing to consider marrying out of the faith.  That is a challenge for the Jewish community to see its leadership do that.  That one resolves itself nicely, but I am still not entirely happy with the rabbi's decision.

My other issue is the rabbi's sermon towards the end of the movie.  Ben Stiller apologies to his congregation for not telling them what he was doing.  With due respect, he did not have to.  We clergy walk a very fine line.  We realize that we live in a fishbowl, and most of us are appropriately proud that there is nothing in that fishbowl to hide.  On the other hand, we are also entitled to a smidgen of privacy.  While we all accept the fishbowl, we do not have to check in with the board for permission to go out to dinner with someone.  A more appropriate sermon topic might have been talking about the rabbi on such a personal matter, although I have no clue how to write that without alienating the congregation.  The rabbi's private life is certainly not one of those areas in which the synagogue parking lot fulfills its often vital yet understated role.

Have a good evening.


Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Stuff I Learned during Pesach

Top of the the evening everyone...

Many of you are aware that Pesach (Passover) is a very involved holiday.  There are different foods involved.  There is detailed preparation.  Then the meals on the first two nights is a highly ritualized affair.

What did I learn?

1.  It would appear that my father-in-law was right.  He says that all matza tastes different.  I always thought they taste the same.  I compared an Israeli brand to an American brand.  The Israeli brand had one fewer sheet of matza in a box of the same weight.  This means that the Israeli brand is slightly thicker.  As well, the Israeli brand is a tiny bit darker, suggesting more time in the oven.  I like the Israeli brand better.

My father-in-law has never lost an argument.  Neither have I.  So much for that statistic.

2.  We do not all have to be on the same page.  We used different haggadot the first night.  I thought it got a little confusing.  Jennifer loved it.  We tried using the same haggadah the second night.  It was just no fun.  If we take the maggid section of the text and let go of the rigid format, it very much opens up the discussion, and eliminates the need for all having the same text.

3.  Rabbis are the worst.  As I have checked products more and more over the years, it has become more and more apparent that the supervisory organizations are being strict well beyond anything that Jewish law has ever required.  I do not mind that.  I do mind though that stringency always seems to be accompanied by higher prices.  That is an unfair burden to place on the Jewish community.

I probably learned other things as well.

Have a good night.


P.S.  PattiLaw - it is great to hear from you.  Regards to William.