Friday, April 23, 2010

April 14th
Visit to the URJ, NYC
The URJ -Union for Reform Judaism provides vision and leadership to Reform Jews and congregations on spiritual, ethical, social justice and management issues. I was invited by Rabbi Elliot Kleinman to visit the URJ Headquarters located in Manhattan. Elliot and I were first year rabbinical students at the Hebrew Union College, Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem during the year of 1987-1988. All first year rabbinical students are required to live in Jerusalem for one full year. We spent a lot of time together and became lifelong friends and colleagues throughout the years. I am truly proud of what Elliot has accomplished and all he does for the URJ. Elliot is the director of Advancing Reform Judaism and he gave me a “VIP” tour of the URJ offices. I had the opportunity to say hello to Rabbi Eric Yoffie, who is the president of the URJ. I also met many people whose names that I have known for years but never met face-to-face including the publisher of the Reform Magazine and the NFTY-Youth Staff. So now I have a better sense as to how this organization runs as it serves over 900 Reform congregations within North America.

April 16th-17th
Visit to Rodeph Sholom, NYC
Congregation Rodeph Sholom was founded on the Lower East Side of New York in 1842. The eighty founders were members of a Bikkur Cholim society known for its care of the sick and needy. Rodeph Sholom’s rich history includes two moves: to Lexington Avenue at 63rd Street in 1891 and to our present home at 7 West 83rd Street in 1930. This Temple House and Sanctuary, designed by renowned architect Charles B. Meyers, was dedicated on Purim, March 1930. The architectural style follows the Romanesque of the 11th and 12th centuries. Beautiful, yet simple in design, the Sanctuary enhances our sense of reverence, as attention is directed to the Ark housing our Torah scrolls and the engraved Hebrew words: “Know before whom you stand.”
Remaining true to our name, which is Hebrew for “pursuer of peace,” Rodeph Sholom takes great pride in our history and is hard at work to fulfill the promise of our future. Congregation Rodeph Sholom is a welcoming spiritual community, which strives to educate and inspire children, youth and adults to participate actively in worship, Torah study and Jewish life experience, and to put Reform Jewish religious and ethical principles into action. We seek to enrich the lives of our members, contribute to the continuance and vitality of the Jewish people, and Tikkun Olam ― to help “repair the world.”
Entering into the sanctuary of Rodef Shalom was like going to back to European times. There was an aura of beauty as I slowly walked up to the bimah to see where I was presenting my sermon. The mosaic tiles that surrounded the Ark were magnificently filled with colors of sparkling gold and blues. This congregation has 1800 families, four rabbis and two cantors!

The entire clergy team was there to conduct Friday night Shabbat Services while I was their guest speaker. The music was uplifting and there were definitely some familiar melodies that we use at TAE. When I first came up to the bimah, I said…I am speechless as I was overwhelmed with the beauty of the sanctuary. I was also blessed to be in the presence of my cousins and an old friend of mine who moved to NYC a number of years ago. The lights were shining bright on me so I could not really see the entire congregation but any bimah with the Shabbat candles burning brightly on my side is definitely my comfort zone.

After services, there was a Freedom Seder held downstairs in the Social Hall. Rodef Shalom and a local Baptist Church have met for over 20 years for this joint effort to create a sense of community. To my delight, I heard such wonderful gospel music plus I heard a powerful presentation on Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream”. It was very moving and to experience how the Jews and the African American community make efforts to join hands for peace and freedom. We ended with a friendship circle singing – We Shall Overcome! This evening was all about removing obstacles built by others because of how one may look or act different from others.

Saturday morning I had breakfast with a group of congregants committed to inclusion within the Rodef Shalom community. The discussion was intense and passionate, as people truly want to make a difference. The message was to focus on in-reach first…to be sure that all congregants feel welcome within the community and then do outreach to others. The reality is that each congregation cannot respond or solve all the challenges of inclusion but rather it is important to focus on who walks into their community and how to respond to their needs. Following this discussion, we went to services on the 4th floor where at least 200 people were in attendance. Keep in mind there were three bnei mitzvahs happening that day in the main sanctuary that is on the main floor. I gave an interactive d’var torah and the congregants responded enthusiastically. Their thoughts and comments were excellent and I learned so much from their participation.

Immediately after services, I greeted people, took a sandwich, grabbed a taxicab and went directly to the airport. I could not miss the TAE Chai Event! In fact, my plane arrived 30 minutes earlier, so I quickly went home, changed my clothes and off I went to Camarillo Airport. The TAE Chai event was amazing! So much spirit and it was so good to see everybody especially my Michael who was eagerly waiting for my arrival after being away for 10 days. The following day, I joined Arielle to go to the JWW walk to end genocide and it was so good to be there among the TAE community for such an important cause. It was also so good to be home!

My final visit will be to Temple Chai in Phoenix, Arizona this coming weekend. I will be visiting Cantor Peter Halpern’s congregation. It will be great to see him again and to see how much Nathan-his son- has grown. I will be speaking on the bimah both Friday and Saturday and participate in a panel about Jews who have faced interesting challenges in their lives.

Monday, April 12, 2010

I took a break from traveling to cook a beautiful Seder for 20 people in my home. It was sure nice to be home with family as we celebrated one of my favorite holidays of all times. The day before I returned home, I was at Galluadet University celebrating Shabbat with several Jewish deaf students and adults who are a part of the greater Washington DC community. I presented a short teaching on the blessings that we recite for Shabbat and then we ate a delicious kosher meal including chicken soup, potatoes and chicken. Apparently everywhere I go, there is always someone that I know. This time, a Deaf couple came in with their beautiful little boy and I realized that I was their rabbi at their wedding awhile back. When they found out that I was coming, they wanted me to meet their newest bundle of joy! I was humbled by their presence and truly blessed to see them again. In addition to learning more about these students and their interest in Judaism, it was apparent that their desire to learn and study is very strong and committed. Perhaps with the incoming new president of Galludet who is Jewish, the opportunity to offer courses and programs related to Judaism will become more available especially for the students. Most of these students do not have any formal Jewish education so this would be a way to open an important door for them to become a part of the greater Jewish community.
During that evening, Serena, and I presented a gift on behalf of Helene Oppenheimer who made a beautiful ceramic piece with the Shema in ASL. They were moved by this beautiful artwork and look forward to hanging it up in the Hillel office so that others can see it as they walk by. Interesting fact: There will be approximately 20 Jewish deaf students that will attending the Birthright Trip to Israel this summer. I met several of them and they are very excited for a trip of a lifetime experience!

My Next Stop: New York
Woodlands Community Synagogue
White Plains, New York

My hosts for this weekend were Jackie and Nelson Leight- their children are Eric and Amy Leight along with those four great boys who are longtime members of TAE. It was lovely to visit their home and to see where Eric grew up. There were plenty of pictures all over the house and I actually saw Eric as a little boy and of course, pictures of Amy and Eric's wedding! Eric and his family have been active members of Woodlands Community Synagogue for many years. It is a Reform synagogue in White Plains. Rabbi Billy Dreskin, the spiritual leader, at this synagogue invited me to speak on the bimah during "The Joyful Noise Service". This is a musical Shabbat service which includes a full ensemble of drums, bass, guitar, sax and keyboards and several singers including the rabbi and the cantor! What is significant about this service is the fact that it is a visual service and no prayer books are needed. All prayers and readings are projected on large screens. It was strange not to hold a prayer book however it was enlightening to be looking up all the time watching the screen and joining others in music and song. Of course, I clapped alot! In addition, there were sign language interpreters who incorporated much of the music into sign in an inspiring way. An interesting fact about this synagogue is that there is no bimah and it creates a holy space with a sense of no barriers whatsoever.

Now I am on way to the City and will visit the Hebrew Union College, Jewish Institute of Religion. I will meet with the rabbinical students shortly after T'filah and do a text study on Jews with Disabilities. The question in this text is how do we actually respond when we see someone with a disability? In the Talmud, there was a discussion about reciting blessings when we see someone with a disability. The question remains, should there be different blessings for different people or one for all?

Thursday, March 25, 2010

With the Legislative Assistants at the RAC, along with Rabbi Lynne Landsberg and Rabbi Michael Namath (along with Rachel and Kyle).

Rachel and I in front of the Capitol.

Serena and I at the Sculpture Garden in DC.
Monday, March 22nd
Serena Tobias, a friend and congregant of TAE, had never been to Washington DC so she decided to join me for the week to explore the city while I was doing my presentations. Today, we had the opportunity to explore the National Archives Museum where we saw the U.S. Constitution, Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence. One of my favorite action movies was “The National Treasure” in which Nicholas Cage attempts to search for the original Declaration of Independence while the bad guys try to steal it from the Archives Building. So here I was walking through this building and seeing the many thick walls and vaults knowing how well secured this place was and how it would be almost impossible to walk out with such an historical document!

Then we went to the National Gallery of Art where we saw plenty of art especially from 14th-16th century. I had never seen so many oil paintings in one day! Of course I saw some of my favorites including Johannes Vermeer and Renoir. We also went to the Sculpture Garden where the sizes of the sculptures were gigantic. My favorite sculpture was the typewriter eraser- it has a round red eraser on the bottom and a brush on top of it. I fondly remember looking through my dad’s office desk and seeing those green typewriter erasers. However this particular one was enormous!

Tuesday, March 23rd
Our second day of exploring DC- Rachel is on Spring Break so she flew in to join us for the week to be with us. We went to the American History Museum and we finally saw Kermit the Frog! He says hello to all of you. Of course we saw Judy Garland’s famous shiny red shoes that she wore in the movie, Wizard of the Oz. My most recent favorite movie is Julie and Julia about the famous chef, Julia Child- her kitchen is now on display at this museum and it was almost surreal being there. The kitchen looked so ordinary with many knives on the wall as Julia always believed that a good knife was a necessity to prepare and cook a delicious meal. The second museum for the day was a visit to the National Portrait Gallery where they have all the presidents on display with the exception of Obama as these portraits only go up towards the end of their terms. I was completely enthralled by these portraits and learned so much about some of the presidents whom I had never even heard of! After visiting the fourth museum in two days, my feet could barely move but it was a worthwhile workout!

Wednesday, March 24th
WRN Workshop
“The Women’s Rabbinic Network (WRN), a constituent group of the Central Conference of American Rabbis (CCAR), was created in 1975 by a group of female rabbinic students to provide the support and advocacy needed in the early years of women in the Reform rabbinate…since then, the organization has grown to include the more than 400 women who have been ordained since 1972 at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion. The WRN has consistently worked to promote the personal and professional growth of female rabbis and rabbinic students within the Reform Movement…women rabbis have had a profound impact on the world Jewish community. ‘We have contributed to the growth of feminist biblical commentary and midrash, and have paved the path for ritual innovation and creativity. As rabbis in congregations, in Hillel’s, as chaplains in geriatric and hospital settings, as educators, teachers, healers, professors and poets, we are all making a significant contribution to our community.”

Today, I met with some of my colleagues from the WRN to offer a presentation about Jews with Disabilities. These women work within the greater DC area and meet several times a year to check in with each other, to schmooze and study together. They invited me to share my story and my experience regarding inclusion within the synagogue. The biggest barrier that we face is attitudes as it’s very easy to build a ramp and provide an interpreter. But it is not easy to remove people’s judgments against others and as a result, it makes it more challenging for those to feel welcome within the Jewish community. The discussion was lively and without a doubt these rabbis are greatly committed to make others feel welcome within their own synagogues knowing that they will not be able to solve all problems, but at least work on it to the best of their abilities.

Later in the afternoon, I went to Washington Hebrew Congregation, a Reform congregation with 3,000 members. I was invited to speak with the children during religious school t'filah. Before we did t'filah, the children did a mitzvah project called:

"The Project Elijah Foundation was established in 2004 to provide resources for children in Buenos Aires, Argentina suffering because of the collapse of the Argentine economy. In PEF's efforts to provide food, shelter, and education for these children, PEF learned about the depth of hunger not only in Argentina, but around the world even here in America, in our own “back yard”. This became PEF's focus.That awareness and understanding led us to the development of “Elijah’s Kosher Manna”, a highly nutritious kosher food package intended for hunger relief for those in need here and abroad. This program, which began as a strictly Jewish hunger relief program, has shifted its focus to sharing its resources with all those in need."

That day, the children packaged over 1400 meals to be sent to the local shelters in the DC area. The children were deeply involved and aware that they made a difference for one family's meal.

During T'filah, I discussed the fact that it took their hands to make a difference and how hands are an important part of the sacred partnership that we have with God. I shared with them my personal story and explained that hands are also a beautiful way of communication and offered to teach the Shema in sign language. The children responded beautifully and all smiled after we did the Shema with no words and in complete silence.

Thursday March 25th
Presentation at the RAC
“The History of the Religious Action Center
“Since moving into its home at 2027 Massachusetts Avenue, the Center has become a voice of conscience in our nation’s capital. From its historic building on Washington’s Embassy Row, the RAC has educated and mobilized the American Jewish community on legislative and social concerns as an advocate in Congress on issues ranging from Israel and Soviet Jewry to economic justice; from civil rights to international peace and religious liberty. Since it was established in 1961, the RAC has been an integral part of some of the most important political and social developments in recent history.”

I went to the Religious Action Center along with Serena, Rachel and Kyle Fradkin who is studying in the DC area for one quarter through the University of California. Kyle and his family are long-time members at TAE. Kyle’s grandfather, Arthur Fradkin, attends our Saturday morning services every Shabbat. Kyle and Rachel both attend UC Davis and have been close friends since their AETY days.

The first person that came to greet us was Rabbi David Saperstein- his bio is quite impressive…this is what it says:
“Designated in Newsweek’s 2009 list as the most influential rabbi in the country and described in a Washington Post profile as "the quintessential religious lobbyist on Capitol Hill," Rabbi David Saperstein represents the national Reform Jewish Movement to Congress and the Administration as the Director of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism.”
I have heard him speak over the years and he is one of the most dynamic and outgoing speakers that I have ever heard of. It was a pleasure to see him in person! Rabbi Lynne Landsberg gave us a tour and we met several of the Eisendrath Legislative Assistants (LA) “who are involved and play a pivotal role in every aspect of the Center's work — Legislative Advocacy, Conferences, Communications and supporting the Commission on Social Action of Reform Judaism.”

These young people gathered around the table and I spoke to them about the challenges that many Jews with disabilities tend to face. The challenge remains but these young people were filled with much energy and optimistic that they are determined that civil rights will continue to be on the top of their agenda.

As you may know that Rabbi Ted Riter was also one of these LAs before he entered rabbinical school awhile back. To work in the halls of the Religious Action Center is truly impressive because it is the beating heart of the Reform Movement to make sure that all voices are heard on Capital Hill.

It was a humble experience to speak to these people at the Religious Action Center who are fully committed and dedicated to change the world one day at a time for all humanity.

Friday, March 26th
Visit to Gallaudet University Hillel for Shabbat Dinner and Visit with the Jewish deaf students.

“Gallaudet University, the world's only university in which all programs and services are specifically designed to accommodate deaf and hard of hearing students, was founded in 1864 by an Act of Congress, and its charter was signed by President Abraham Lincoln.”

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Yesterday I arrived and brought the Southern California weather with me here to Washington DC! Apparently it was the first day of sun for the local DC people after such a major winter season with lots and lots of snow! I met Rabbi Lynne Landsberg and her husband, Dennis and they welcomed me with open arms and graciously invited me to stay with them. They live in the Chevy Chase area and because it was so warm and sunny – I had a chance to take a nice long walk to wear off the jet-lag. That night we arrived at Temple Micah and were formally welcomed by Rabbi Esther Lederman. This is the second synagogue where name tags were set on the side table as people walked in so that everyone would know and feel welcomed into the synagogue. The program began at 6pm with delicious fruit, humos and crackers plus song and greetings outside in the foyer. We lit the candles, bless the wine, the challah and then we walked into the sanctuary for the actual service. It is exactly like our Kabbalat Shabbat that we do on the fifth Friday of the month at TAE. It created a lovely atmosphere of welcoming the Shabbat.

Traveling so far to the other side of the country, one may assume that I did not know anyone. Wrong. I saw a few friends from the Jewish Deaf community of DC plus I saw congregants from TAE! Who did I see? Well, Dr. Iceland and his wife Jan have been members of TAE for many years and Dr. Iceland has done an excellent job with my teeth. His daughter, Stephanie and her husband moved to Washington DC several months ago. They had been searching for a synagogue and by luck they found out that I was going to be at Temple Micah that night. So they decided to come and surprise me plus check out Temple Micah. It was wonderful to see them again and to see how they are doing, as they will be going overseas for work shortly. I think they enjoyed Temple Micah as I introduced them to Rabbi Esther Lederman who is the assistant rabbi at this synagogue. Rabbi Zemel was on a congregational trip to Israel so he was not able to be there. The congregants welcomed me and they enjoyed my presentation tremendously. The sanctuary is quite modern surrounded by wooden floors and walls. Beautiful Hebrew quotes around the borders of the room. The ark was quite unique as each Torah has it’s own little Ark as they stood next to each other. The congregation uses the Mishkan T’filah. The junior choir also participated in the service and they were such a delight to watch. When they sang V’sharmru- many kids who go to Jewish camps- know that this is the song that they stand up in the middle of it. Well not only did the kids stand up, but also the adults were going along with it. It was a fun sight to watch! I must admit that Shirei Elohim- the TAE junior choir is the best choir of all! I miss them so much so here is a kiss to all of you little ones and keep singing your hearts out!

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

My Third Stop
Washington, DC
March 18th-March 27th, 2010

Visit to Temple Micah
March 19th Friday

"Temple Micah, named by Newsweek as "One of America's 25 Most Vibrant Congregations", is a Reform Jewish congregation dedicated to the spiritual fulfillment of its members. We value religious observance enhanced by social action, intellectual challenge, lifelong Jewish learning and beautiful music. Our diverse and welcoming community nurtures personal connections through active participation in a vibrant temple life."

"Rabbi Rebecca Dubowe, the first deaf female ordained rabbi, will speak at Friday evening services on March 19. Her topic will be, “I Heard God’s Call…A Sacred and Personal Story…”. Rabbi Dubowe, a leader of the national Jewish Deaf Community, has served as a spiritual leader of Temple Adat Elohim in Thousand Oaks, CA, for 13 years. She currently serves on the Central Conference of American Rabbis Committee on Disability Awareness and Inclusion. Micah’s Accessibility and Inclusion Committee is coordinating Rabbi Dubowe’s visit."