Before we get to this year, let me first give you an update about last year. Last year in my Yom Kippur Yizkor sermon dealing with my 70th birthday, I told you that I had bought a watch which you program with some information about your age and your health, and then the watch tells you the present time … and how much time you have left until you die. And then you watch the minutes tick down. Well, after Yom Kippur I put that watch away. I didn’t think about it again until shortly before Rosh Hashanah. I took it out of the drawer to see how much time I had left. And lo and behold, I looked at the watch … and the battery had died! So much for last year’s prop. Now, for this year’s!
What is this? (Holding up selfie stick). If I had asked you that question two years ago most all of you would not have known the answer. Had I asked this question last year most everybody under 50 would have known the answer. This year everyone knows the answer, especially if you have recently traveled. Sherry and I were in Rome and Venice with our granddaughters this past June. People were selling these on every corner. And they weren’t doing such great business because everyone already seemed to have one! It is a “selfie stick.” READ MORE
Here’s the story: this is the holiest night of the year and this is the most difficult sermon for me to deliver. You sit here stuffed and tired. I stand here stuffed and tired … not the most positive setting in which to speak. So here is what I’m going to do: I’m going to tell you a few stories, primarily about people you know or know of. And then I’m going to ask you to write your own story. And if you get it right, you will have earned your place in the World-to-Come. So let’s start!
What happened on the streets of Baltimore the last week of April marked a terrible blow to our city that will not soon go away. The scenes that followed the troubling death of Freddie Gray reverberated around the world. Seemingly overnight, civil society as we know it broke down; divisions erupted between the Mayor and the Governor, the police and the community, the State’s Prosecutor and the media, between blacks and whites. Little wonder that CNN’s coverage was headlined: “Baltimore is Burning.” READ MORE
I woke up Thursday morning, August 6, and read a Tweet that the night before Maryland Senator, Ben Cardin, had met with the President of the U.S. I immediately emailed our Senator:
I understand that you met with the President last night. I’m sure you are aware of the fact that I know a lot more about the situation in Iran than he does! If you have any questions, I – and my military aides – are available for discussion.
The fact of the matter is it is very possible that the President knows more than I know … more than most anyone knows. How many of us know one centrifuge from another? How many of us know what “yellow cake” is if it doesn’t come in a box from Manischewitz? So what do I know? But in the past, that hasn’t stopped me from talking! Yossi Klein Halevi, one of Israel’s most respected and responsible writers, tells us that Israel is facing the greatest danger to its existence since 1948. How can I not speak about it? This is one of those moments in time that are truly historic. In the U’netane Tokef prayer we recite on the High Holidays we find the angels “trembling and shaking; Heini baw yom hadin – behold the Day of Judgement is here.” This Rosh Hashanah it is not just the angels who are trembling and shaking! With the vote on the Iran agreement, all of us are trembling and shaking! The vote may be over but the aftershocks are going to be felt for many years to come.
So this morning let me tell you how I feel about the agreement and what I know about it. I want to give you three perspectives on how I feel in my heart about what has unfolded; the perspective of an American, the perspective of a Jew, and the perspective of an American Jew. But first let me tell you what I KNOW… what I think by now we should all know. READ MORE
This is the last Shabbat of the year. This is the moment that I must get all my sins out of my system so that I can enter the New Year with a clean slate. With this in mind, I need to talk to you about Jimmy Carter. I know that you are supposed to “love your neighbor as yourself,” but I don’t love Jimmy Carter. And thank God, he’s not my neighbor. I’ve never liked Jimmy Carter! In fact, my feelings toward him are part of my family’s lore. Even though it happened 35 years ago, I remember it like yesterday. It was the first week of November, 1980 … that Monday my father, of blessed memory, underwent quadruple bypass surgery. I had come into New York on Sunday to be with him and my mother and brothers. The doctor told us it would be 24 hours before we would know if things were okay. Finally, early Tuesday afternoon the word came: all was well! November 4th, 1980… that was Election Day… Ronald Reagan was running against the incumbent Jimmy Carter. I did not like Jimmy Carter. It ends up that most of America didn’t like Jimmy Carter as President. But my wife, Sherry, she should live and be well, never met a conservative Republican that she liked. And so I called her that day and I said, “Sherry, look I feel bad that I’m not home and I can’t vote. But you know I would vote for Reagan, as I know you would vote for Carter. Do me a favor and don’t vote this year. That way, it will be a wash and I can stay here with my father in New York.” And Sherry, in her sweet, charming manner said to me, “FUHGEDDABOUDIT! I’m a citizen of the United States; it’s my obligation as a citizen to vote and I am going to vote.” I then told Sherry how impressed I was with her sense of patriotism (or something to that effect) and we hung up. And I took a Metroliner home so that I could vote. READ MORE
Next week Sherry and I are talking our two oldest grandchildren to see Rome and Venice. Going at this time can be quite hectic. According to an article in last week’s Wall Street Journal, because of the strength of the dollar, people from the U.S. and other countries are flocking to Europe this summer and especially to the most popular sites … one of which is the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel. According to the Journal article, on the Trip Advisor website, the Sistine Chapel received more than 2600 reviews marked “excellent” and just 94 reviews marked “terrible.” I asked myself: How terrible can it be? I’m sure the critics must have felt that they could have done a better job, but still! And then I had a more painful insight. Is it possible … is it just possible … that the 94 “terrible” reviews had come from Jews?
Why would I ever think that? It’s not for religious reasons. I can’t imagine a Jew denouncing the Sistine Chapel because of his Jewishness. If that was the case, he never would have gone there in the first place! So what makes me think that it may have been Jews nonetheless? For that, you have to know who David Blatt is. If I ask you: how many of you know who LeBron James is, I think most all of you – with the possible exception of Rabbi Wecker – would know the answer. But you have to be a bit of a sports connoisseur to know who David Blatt is. David Blatt is LeBron James’ coach. He is the coach of the Cleveland Cavaliers. And he is a Jew … a proud Jew. He has four children named, Shani, Adi, Ella and Tamir. Two of them have served in the Israeli army. Blatt grew up in Framingham, MA and after spending a summer in Israel he decided to go on aliyah and join the Israeli army. He eventually became the head of the Israeli National Basketball Team. In 2014, he led Maccabi Tel Aviv to the Euro League championship … making him good enough to coach LeBron James into the finals that are now being played in the NBA. READ MORE
Two weeks ago at the conclusion of the Kentucky Derby, Bob Baffert, the trainer of the winning horse, American Pharaoh, was asked whether, given the unrest in Baltimore, he would be bringing his horse here to run in today’s Preakness. His response was, “People settle down and things get worked out … life still goes on.” He’s right, you know! And that is part of the problem. What happened here in Baltimore has happened before. Time Magazine captured that feeling with its cover story picturing a racial disturbance in Baltimore with the words: “America 1968” with 1968 crossed out and 2015 scribbled in instead, followed by the words: “What has changed and what hasn’t?” The fact is, it has happened before, and people settled down. And so, it happened again and people have settled down. Yet we are left with the feeling that we haven’t seen the end of all this. READ MORE
For me, the most difficult part in preparing a sermon is to decide what I should speak about. It’s not always easy to think of a topic. Today I have a very different challenge … what should I NOT speak about? There are so many topics to choose from! Shall I speak about Yom Hashoah –Holocaust Remembrance Day that took place this past Thursday? Or should I speak about Yom Ha-Atzmaut – Israel Independence Day, which takes place this coming Thursday? Should I talk about today’s Torah portion? Or, should I just talk about the Bat Mitzvah of my granddaughter? I couldn’t decide, so let’s see if I can do it all!
Let’s begin with this question: Which should play a greater role in our being Jewish – the Holocaust or the re-establishment of the state of Israel? I know the obvious answer is: both! Both are crucially important and both are central to our existence. But if you had to choose ONE which is most significant to your identity as a Jew, what would you choose? That is a question that thousands of Jews were asked in the Pew Survey. When people were asked, “What is essential to being Jewish?” 73% replied, “remembering the Holocaust.” 43% answered “caring about Israel,” just 1 % more than responded “having a good sense of humor.” The Holocaust beats Israel every time! READ MORE