Texas Synagogue Steps Up When Local Mosque Falls Victim to Arson

The Muslims of Victoria, a small city in southern Texas, have experienced the healing power of kindness in the face of devastating cruelty. Their mosque, the Victoria Islamic Center, was destroyed by an arsonist on January 28, the morning after President Trump issued his original executive order banning immigration from seven predominantly Muslim nations. While the investigation into the fire continues, officials are not yet able to call the arson a hate crime. [Read more…]

Torah Learn-in at JFK in Support of Refugees

"You shalt not wrong or oppress..." Photo: Dan Loeb.

“You shalt not wrong or oppress…” Photo: Dan Loeb.

This Wednesday, February 8, rabbinical students, rabbis, lay leaders, and people of all faiths and backgrounds will gather together at the chapel at Terminal 4 at JFK Airport for a morning of prayer and Torah learning to offer spiritual support for those refugees who are yearning to reach our shores. [Read more…]

Why Is This Night Different?: Thoughts on Tu B’Shvat

By Richard H. Schwartz

By מרכז להב"ה מגאר Pikiwiki Israel, CC BY 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=25110674

Olive Tree. Photo: Pikiwiki Israel.

One of the highlights of the Passover seder is the recitation of the four questions which consider how the night of Passover differs from all the other nights of the year. Many questions are also appropriate for Tu B’Shvat, which starts on Friday evening, February 10, in 2017, because of the many ways that this holiday differs from Passover and all other nights of the year. [Read more…]

JCCs Receive Bomb Threats Twice in One Month

For Jewish community centers (JCCs) around the country, 2017 began with a series of security scares. On January 9, 16 centers in nine states received fake bomb threats, causing many evacuations and a disruption in normal operations. It was a similar scenario just nine days later when, according to the JCC Association of North America, a wave of bomb threats caused 27 JCCs in 17 states to quickly engage in security protocols to ensure the safety of their participants and facilities. [Read more…]

Boathouse Row Transformed Into a Mammoth Menorah

This year, a Hanukkah greeting appeared on one of the boathouses for the first time. Photo credit: NBC10.com

This year, a Hanukkah greeting appeared on one of the boathouses for the first time.
Photo credit: NBC10.com

One of the most magical sights in Philadelphia is Boathouse Row at night, when the riverbank rowing houses are illuminated with a beckoning glow, reflecting on the still waters of the Schuylkill River. For Jews celebrating Hanukkah this season, this visual delight has taken on a new significance: for the first time, the boathouses have been converted into what Mayor Kenney’s office describes in a press release as “one of the largest representations of the menorah in the nation.” [Read more…]

Being Jewish During Christmas: 10 Easy Steps

Photo by Joe Goldberg https://www.flickr.com/photos/goldberg/

Photo by Joe Goldberg

Being Jewish in the diaspora is especially difficult during Christmas. Christmas is such a shiny and beautiful celebration, that it is hard for Hanukkah not to be eclipsed by it. I decided to rise to the challenge. Here is how I did it.

1) Acknowledge the beauty of Christmas

Honesty is key. The Christmas decorations and lights are lovely. There is no harm in saying so. My family enjoyed admiring them all around us. At no time were christmas decorations allowed in our home, and my kids were never permitted to help their friends decorate a Christmas tree.

2) Control the radio and television

As soon as Thanksgiving is over, the broadcast media inundates everyone with Christmas music and movies. We made a point of listening to Hanukkah and Israeli music, and to watch movies about Hanukkah. We created our own Hanukkah bubble, which was surrounded by Christmas.

3) Instill pride with the retelling of the story of the Maccabees

Tell your kids the story of the bravery of the Maccabees. Use whatever resources you have at your disposal to bring it to life. Most kids are fascinated to discover that the weapon of mass destruction during their time was the war elephant.

4) Make Hanukkah crafts

We made our own beeswax candles and hanukiot. It was so much more meaningful for the children to light a menorah they had made themselves.

5) Participate in community celebrations

Your family may join an ice menorah sculpting and lighting happening, or go to the Latkepalooza to taste non-traditional latkes. Communal menorah lightings and celebrations are a wonderful way to feel part of your People during Hanukkah.

Photo by MathKnight https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:MathKnight

Photo by MathKnight https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/User:MathKnight

6) Create your own Hanukkah fun

We celebrated Hanukkah by making our own gelt, preparing latkes and sufganiot, and hosting at least one Hanukkah party. It is fun to serve Israeli foods during a Hanukkah party, as well as Sephardic treats and specialties from other Jewish communities. Of course, no Hanukkah party is complete without the dreidel game.

7) Light an olive oil menorah

Lighting an olive oil menorah transports you back in time to the Temple in Jerusalem. Your family can relive the rededication of the Temple after the victory of the Maccabees, and the lighting of the pure oil.

8) Give great presents!

If you examine the reasons young children are envious of Christmas, one of the main ones is that gifts are involved. This one is easy to solve. I told my kids that while children who celebrate Christmas get gifts during only one day, kids who celebrate Hanukkah get gifts during eight nights. Then, I went out and bought eight great gifts for each of them. They had something to look forward to every day. When Christmas and Hanukkah were over, all the kids at school compared what they had received. My children were satisfied with their gifts.

9) Bond with other Jews

There is a special bond that forms in December between Jews. There are enough of us in the Philadelphia area that together we share a special Christmas tradition. Have dinner at a restaurant in Chinatown, and then go to a movie. Check the Jewish community listings for special activities and events scheduled on December 24 and 25. Single people in our community should go to the matzah ball where they can mingle with other eligible single Jews. Even when Christmas and Hanukkah don’t overlap, non-Christmas feels like our own special holiday.

10) Be genuinely happy for your Christian friends.

I always wish my Christian friends a happy Christmas, and I mean it. I love hearing about their different traditions and recipes. I have modeled this behavior for my family.

My kids are now young adults. I asked them what they thought of their Hanukkah experience growing up in the United States. They told me that Christmas is a beautiful holiday, and that they feel so lucky to be Jews celebrating Hanukkah.

Just and Rightful Authority

Every Shabbat, just after the Torah service, most Conservative synagogues recite the Prayer for Our Country, written by Rabbi Louis Ginzberg. Part of this prayer has troubled me since I first encountered it in 1998. I and others were independently led to “invent” an abridged, but more inclusive version of this prayer, by omitting three key words. [Read more…]

“We Will Be Okay”: An Open Letter to Fellow Rabbis and Faith Leaders

Will we be okay? What do I tell my kids?

These are two questions that have been asked since the nation elected Donald Trump as president of the United States. The answer to the first question is yes. And we will tell our children the following: On November 8, our country elected Mr. Trump to be our next president. For many of us, he was not the person we wanted, but our nation has spoken in a way that makes this country extraordinary. We voted and we decided. Our process worked. Despite our deep disagreements, we all have a president-elect.

usflagNow it is time to find a way to move forward. We will pray our new president embraces the ideal that he is the president of all people of the United States and that the United States has unique responsibilities because it holds a unique role in the world. Whether we agree with Mr. Trump’s personal or political views, we hope for his success as the leader of our nation. At the same time, we need to embrace our important place to fight for what we believe to be right, especially given the circumstances that brought us to this place.

We have long relied on government intervention to address issues and solve problems. However, for many in America, that did not work. They felt abandoned, if not betrayed, with promises of protection broken, and a system unresponsive to their needs.

And for many others of us, we have been lulled into complacency and a false sense of security. This election is a harsh wake-up call and rouses us to action, not against the government, but aware of governments’ limitations to help the governed. It is up to us to create the change we seek, now more than ever. Voting is only the first step in a process of engagement. Showing up at local meetings, petitioning Congress and holding the new president — and every part of government — accountable must ensue. Community organizing is vital. Our aspirations and goals are in our hands. We cannot relegate them to another’s care, certainly not now. Our community groups, both religious and civic, can use this moment in our history to reinvigorate and rededicate themselves, advancing important values of dignity, equality and justice.

Yes, we will be all right. The United States of America is strong, and we, her people, are resilient. But the future is in our hands. It is our work as rabbis and other faith leaders to help guide and support the people as teachers, chaplains and champions of social justice and the values we hold dear. There is much to do, and our work has never been more important.