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SERMON: The Nile, Denial and Religion

It has been said that every Jewish holiday can be encapsulated in these words: “They tried to kill us, we survived … let’s eat!” Surely, this festival of Pesach is a perfect example of this. Unfortunately, these words: “They tried to kill us …” still resonate today, except that the “they” is something no one wants to name, and the “us” is not just the Jews, but the civilized world.

In the weeks leading up to Pesach these are some of the quotes I read:
– Director of National Intelligence, James Clapper, said that the terrorism trend lines today were worse “than at any other point in history.”
– Michael Morrell, former Deputy Director of the CIA, told an audience, “My children’s generation and my grandchildren’s generation will still be fighting this fight.”
– Former CIA Director, Gen. David Petraeus, told an interviewer, “We are in the midst of what clearly is a long struggle … there are no shortcuts to success. No single measure that we can take that will eliminate the danger in one fell swoop.”

Yes, “they” are trying to destroy “us.” And it would seem to me that a good measure of the problem that exists today finds its roots in our ancient Egyptian experience. The problems today begin with where the problem began then: right at the Nile. READ MORE

SERMON: Is It Time for the Exodus From Europe?

I don’t always agree with Rabbi Eric Yoffe, one of the illustrious leaders of the Reform Movement, but he got it just right in his reaction to this week’s Israeli election when he told American Jews, “Bibi won, get over it.” I thoroughly agree, and that is why today I speak not of the choice the Jews of Israel made this week, but of another choice that another group of Jews are having to make – a choice just as crucial, just as existential – as the choice Israelis made!

Jewish Action, the magazine of the Union of Orthodox Congregations, has as its cover story the question: “Do Jews Have a Future in Europe?” This week the Mosaic website’s feature article asks: Time for Swedish Jews to leave? The Atlantic magazine’s April issue has a feature article by Jeffrey Goldberg entitled. “Is it time for the Jews to leave Europe?” By a show of hands, how many of you – if you were living in Europe – would be considering leaving that continent? And how many of you would not be thinking about it? Well, let me tell you what Moshe Kantor, the President of the European Jewish Congress, said last week: “The question just now in every Jewish family in Europe is: to leave or to stay.” Every Jewish family is now asking that question! Who would believe that in the 21st century Jews would be afraid to live in the heart of the civilized world? That can only mean one thing: the world has gone crazy! READ MORE

SERMON: Netanyahu Addresses Congress: One Speech, Two Opinions

This Shabbat, I gave my perspective on Netanyahu’s speech to Congress:

Who Do You Trust? Iran? The World? Obama? Netanyahu?
I have read a lot of books and it would be hard to say which is my favorite. But it’s easy to say which title was my favorite! It was a book written by Sidney Zion, which he titled: “Trust Your Mother but Cut the Cards.” Those few words say so much! As close as we are to someone, as much as we might love someone, we should never take things for granted. We should never be naïve … trust your mother but cut the cards.

We Jews have a two word phrase for this: “Kabdeihu v’chashdeihu – honor him, but suspect him.” In a sense, we put those words into practice because of today’s Torah portion. On the surface, today’s Torah portion tells us nothing new … after several Torah portions describing God’s directions to Moshe on exactly how to build the Mishkan – the Tabernacle – today’s Torah portion finds Moshe, word for word, sentence by sentence, telling the Jewish people: I did this, I did that, I collected this amount of money, I spent this amount of money … more than 100 verses telling us nothing more than just that. Do you know why? The Midrash tells us that after Moshe collected all the gifts that people gave for the building of the sanctuary, every time he walked by, people would whisper to each other behind his back: “Look how good he looks … look how well he is dressing … surely he must be taking money off from what we have contributed.” Moshe heard this talk; he heard them questioning his integrity and their lack of trust in his honesty and so he gave them a detailed report of every single dime that was spent on the building of the sanctuary. And you should know that because of this incident, we are told that the person who collected the money for the funds in the Temple could not wear a double-hemmed garment, a hollow belt or even pants … so that if later on he would become rich people could not claim that he became rich from taking money from the communal treasury. READ MORE

And then I invited Rabbi Jonathan Gross to give his:

A Response to Rabbi Wohlberg’s Sermon…
First I want to thank Rabbi Wohlberg for giving me an opportunity to give another perspective to the Netanyahu speech. One of the many things that make Beth Tfiloh the best synagogue in North America is the diversity of opinions that exist among our congregation, and even our Rabbis, and our ability to come together on Shabbat and discuss and debate them as a congregation.

One of the stories surrounding the Netanyahu speech involved Nebraska Congressman Brad Ashford, from the district that I used to live in Omaha. Sheldon Adelson, the billionaire activist, was sitting in the balcony with his wife Miriam waiting for Netanyahu to enter Congress to deliver his speech. Miriam leaned over the balcony and dropped her handbag, hitting Congressman Ashford in the head. I just hope that this is the last time we hear of a distinguished gentleman from Omaha getting hit in the head because of the Netanyahu speech.

In the sermon you just heard, Rabbi Wohlberg made many good points about the perfidiousness of the Iranian regime, and the looming dangers Iran’s nuclear aspirations pose to Israel. But I am not here to debate those. He also made some strong assertions about Netanyahu’s record on economic policy, religious matters, and how he handled the war in Gaza. All of these are debatable, but not today. READ MORE

What do YOU think?

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SERMON: From Selma to Lebanon; Left on the Cutting Room Floor…

I know that some of you would like to hear my thoughts on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress and the events of this week. To tell you the truth, I would like to hear them as well, but I am still listening and reading what others have to say. The fact is the real test of the speech is the effect that it had, and for that it is too soon to tell. So, I will wait until next week to speak about what everyone is speaking about! Instead, today I would like to draw your attention to some people and events which no one is speaking about because they were left on the cutting room floor.

First, let me ask you: how many digital pictures do you think are taken every year? Let’s start with this: on Facebook, WhatsApp and Snapchat alone, 1.5 billion new photos are shared every day, which comes out to about 550 billion a year! How many digital pictures are taken in total? Hard to say … it could be one trillion or five trillion or ten trillion! And amongst those photos, do you know what picture is frequently taken? A picture of yourself – a selfie! Over a million people every day take a picture of themselves. Now you tell me: do you think they really look that good? They obviously don’t think so! More than one third admit to touching up their selfies! So why do they bother even taking the picture in the first place? I guess that’s the world in which we live. Today there doesn’t seem to be anything worse than being left out of the picture. There is a phrase – an idiom – “left on the cutting room floor” … the picture was made but for one reason or another, your part got edited out … “left on the cutting room floor.” I tell you this today because that is what has been happening recently to the Jewish people. READ MORE

SERMON: Barack Obama, Brian Williams … and Me

It was in the summer of 1968. The Vietnam War was raging and I had just received my rabbinic ordination … which I thought meant that I would be deferred from the draft. But a few weeks after receiving my ordination, I got my draft notice and 6 months later I found myself in a helicopter gunship flying over the Mekong Delta with my co-pilot – a nice kid from New Jersey named Brian Williams.

Wait! On further reflection, maybe it wasn’t the Mekong Delta … it was Manhattan. And maybe it wasn’t a helicopter gunship … but a 1964 Buick. And maybe my co-pilot wasn’t Brian Williams … but my wife, Sherry. That’s what happens when you “misremember.” READ MORE

Wishful Thinking

February 27, 2015 Leave a comment

BW RW moonThis Shabbat, I’ll talk about “Barack Obama, Brian Williams …
and Me.” Don’t Brian and I look good together?

Here are some articles to read before then:

Ben Cardin’s creative proposal for tax reform, The Washington Post
A credibility gapThe Washington Post
Rock, Paper, Scissors of PC Victimology, Tablet Magazine

Just wait until you see what I’m wearing for Purim… see you on Wednesday and Thursday at BT!

Shabbat shalom!

Mr. Netanyahu Goes to Washington – Yes or No?

February 18, 2015 Leave a comment

Okay, class. Here is the question for today: should Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu address a joint session of the U.S. Congress on March 3rd?

First, let me first provide the background. The Speaker of the House, Republican John Boehner, invited Prime Minister Netanyahu to address Congress about negotiations regarding Iran’s nuclear program. To date, the negotiations have passed their deadline, with a new extended deadline approaching. There are many in Congress, as well as Israel’s leaders, who feel that the threat of more sanctions can help push Iran into making necessary concessions. Others, including President Obama and some world leaders, argue that Congress resolving to add more sanctions would only push the Iranians away from the table. Everyone agrees that Iran going nuclear will be a threat to Israel, yes … but throughout the Middle East and  way beyond as well. READ MORE

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