Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Vote Mercaz 2020!

VoteMERCAZ! Champions of Progress and Pluralism

It's time to cast your ballot in the World Zionist Congress Elections:
Every 5 years American Jews have the opportunity to vote in the World Zionist Congress and have influence in a way that American Jews rarely have in Israel.  While this may seem like a small arcane election - in fact - critical decisions, influential positions, reputational influence, and funding for Movement are all at stake in this coming election.

Vote MERCAZ (Slate 6)
  • For Pluralism
  • For Democratic Values
  • For Equality
  • For Funding of Conservative/Masorti Programs

This is the ONLY election where American Jews can formally voice their concerns and views. Let's make sure our vision of Israel as a thriving, pluralistic homeland for all Jews is secure.

orhttps://azm.org/elections and choose MERCAZ, Slate 6.

Thursday, January 16, 2020

Call the Sabbath a Delight

This is another in the ongoing series this year related to A. J. Heschel's book, The Sabbath, which we are studying at minchah service at NSJC:  

"Call the Sabbath a delight:  a delight to the soul and a delight to the body.  Since there are so many acts which one must abstain from doing on the seventh day, 'you might think I have given you the Sabbath for your displeasure; I have surely given you the Sabbath for your pleasure.'  To sanctify the seventh day does not mean:  Thou shalt mortify thyself, but, on the contrary;  Thou shalt sanctify it with all they heart, with all they soul, and with all thy senses.  'Sanctify the Sabbat by choice meals, by beautiful garments; delight your soul with pleasure and I will reward you for this very pleasure.'"

Here, incorporating passages found in Isaiah, Kabbalah and Midrash, Heschel, with the remarkable prose for which he is noted, describes one of the commonly misunderstood ideas about keeping the Sabbath, namely, that it is hard to do because there are lots of rules about things you can't do.

From my own experience, I understand how one can think this.  In managing a household of boys accustomed to entertainment, socializing, and even occasionally education, coming to them by way of electronic devices, getting them to stick to our family practice of not using such things is still regularly a challenge.  Yet once we do finally sit down to eat favorite foods, play a board game together, or other such family activities, while they might still tell you they'd prefer to be online, I think they would also agree that this break in their routine to be together is valuable and enjoyable to them, too.

And it is focusing on the positive aspects of Shabbat, which are equally part of its observance alongside those things from which we refrain, that I always encourage "new practitioners"to start with.  Getting great meals ready to go, putting out favorite table linens, wearing something special,  reading a good book, going to services, enjoying family time, or just taking an afternoon nap, not only are these truly things we don't give enough time to during the week and that we need in life, but if you were to engage in such activities, you'd probably be avoiding many of the things we don't do anyway - an added bonus.  

While neither Heschel nor I are saying don't take all of Shabbat seriously, as there can be great beauty and holiness in refraining and abstaining, to approach Shabbat with those things in mind first is a disservice to one of the great concepts, one of the great gifts Judaism brings to the world - that of having a day not of doing and acquiring, but of resting, reflecting and thanking.  

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Benson

Wednesday, January 8, 2020

Vayechi - Unity vs. Tribe

Vayechi - Unity vs. Tribe:  The need to be a united Jewish people has been vital of late and I am proud to say NSJC has demonstrated our commitment to Am Yisrael, the People of Israel, in these last few days and weeks.  
But that doesn’t mean we should feel the need to be like every other Conservative synagogue, or even any other Conservative synagogue.  In fact I think that our strength comes from being uniquely who we are.  And I think the parshah encourages such a view as follows:
Rabbit Acha ben Yaakov says – “not all the tribes together, but even one tribe makes a kahal, a community, what we call a synagogue today.”  We learn this from the portion,
“And Jacob said unto Joseph: 'God Almighty appeared unto me at Luz in the land of Canaan, and blessed me,
and said unto me: Behold, I will make thee fruitful, and multiply thee, and I
will make of you a congregation (kahal) of many peoples ְand will give this land to your seed after you for an everlasting possession.’”
The idea of this passage is that in fulfillment of this verse, Benjamin was born to Jacob, hence one tribe (Benjamin) must be the referred to as a kahal.
Rabbi Acha was questioned by Rabbi Kahana about this, “maybe it means only when there were twelve tribes finally then would he be a kahal?”
R Acha answered, ”Do you mean to say that 11 tribes weren’t a kahal but one could be – surely one tribe is a kahal.”
We must be our own congregation, our own kahal.  We must adhere to our standards for traditional liturgy, for observing kashrut, for emphasizing education and cultural experiences for young and old, for commitment to Israel, and being a synagogue that is blessed with a spirit of togetherness and a lack of internal strife that should not go unappreciated.  
That the tribes together are all the People of Israel is obviously true.  But that needn’t mean each Kahal within the People need be like every other, that is not necessary at all and in fact is probably better for the People when it is not the case.
Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi Benson