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12/03/2022 11:30:00 AM



11/12/2022 11:30:39 AM


Lech Lecha

11/05/2022 11:30:00 AM


Parashat Noach: Kanye West: The Price of Remaining Silent

10/29/2022 10:47:04 AM


Rabbi Dan Dorsch

Upon canceling his documentary contract, Lucas Shaw from MRC Entertainment put it best: He wrote: “Kanye West is a producer and sampler of music.  Only last week, he sampled and remixed a classic tune that has charted for over 3000 years - the lie that Jews are evil and conspire to control the world for their own gain.  This song was performed acapella in the time of the Pharaohs, Babylon, and Rome went acoustic with the Spanish Inquisition, and in Russia’s Pale of Settlement.  Hitler took the song electric.  Kanye has now helped mainstream it into the modern era.”
In response to Kanye's vicious attacks on Jews, former Basketball player Kareem Abdul Jabar, who is an outspoken ally of the Jewish people, wrote that he is “especially horrified when a black person spews anti-Semitism without the slightest awareness that they are fertilizing the ground for all racism, including against black communities.”  Yet weeks earlier, comedian Sarah Silverman wrote that “Kanye threatened the Jews yesterday on Twitter, and it’s not even trending.  Why do mostly only Jews speak out against Jewish hate?  The silence is so loud.”
Never in a million years when I was studying Talmud in rabbinical school did I ever think I would dedicate a sermon to talking about Kanye West.  I don’t even want to take time on Shabbat to speak out about Hollywood Celebrity gossip.  But let’s be clear: we are not talking about any celebrity.  We are talking about a man with thirty-two million followers on Twitter, that is to say about 10% of America.  We are talking about a man who until recently had endorsements from apparel that we all wear.  And we are talking about a man who is clearly living out his mental illness for the entire world to see.
The problem is–with those who have pointed to his mental illness as an excuse, saying he should be left alone–is that mental illness is not an excuse to hate.  As I spoke about over the holidays, there are many people struggling with mental health challenges who live wonderfully productive, not hateful lives.  What he is doing is living with no shame and no remorse. 
Which, therefore, should lead us to question not why we shouldn’t speak out because of his illness, but why it is so deeply problematic that more people are not speaking out?  And should lead us to ask why, when arguably the most prominent celebrity in America says terrible things about Jews, it’s fine for a German company to wait two weeks to do an internal cost-benefit analysis, before they decide it's worth firing an anti-Semite.
What are the consequences of staying silent in the face of evil in the world?  We only need to ask Noah, who in this week’s parasha learned those consequences all too well.  Noah, the Talmud of Sanhedrin points out, was a righteous man, and wholehearted in his generations'' (Genesis 6:9).  Which Rabbi Yochanan says, means that relative to the other people of his generation, and that compared to Abraham, he would’ve been nothing. Why?  Because, Rashi points out, that Noah in the face of God’s challenge to Noah that he would destroy the world with a flood stays silent: whereas Abraham, at his moment when God says God will destroy Sodom and Gemorah, speaks up.   Noah gets the order to build an ark.  He gets on the ark.  The world implodes.  God tells Abraham he will destroy Sodom and Gemorah, an entire city full of people.  Does he sit by?  No, he  says hold on a second God, you can’t do that.  That’s evil.  What if there are good people there?  Under Abraham, the world becomes worth saving.
Rabbi Jonathan Sacks z”l has famously called anti-Semitism the canary in the coal mine for civilized society.  Societies rise and fall depending on how they treat their Jews and respond to anti-Semitism.  If you don’t believe me, take a look at Russia right now.  In Russia, at this moment, the Sochnut, the Jewish Agency from Israel, a humanitarian relief agency, is in court and accused of being spies.  Putin is following in the steps of Kanye, or maybe it’s the other way around.  I have no doubt that soon, in Russia, Jews will be blamed by Putin for his failing war effort.  It’s a tactic that has been used since the beginning of history.  And mark my words, I am no prophet, but this incident, which no one is paying attention to, marks the beginning of a catastrophic flood that will overtake Russian society.
What happens when a person does speak out against evil, rather than being complacent?  We see Avraham Aveinu argue directly with God, challenge God’s understanding of justice, and get God to agree that a minyan of honest people makes a city worth saving.  In the end, Abraham doesn’t save Sodom and Gemorah.  Look at the brave women in Iran standing up today against an oppressive regime.  That society may not be saved.  But their actions restore value to human life.  They turn our heads and remind us there are good people in the world worth fighting for, instead of leaving them to be obliterated in a flood.
Noah waits.  He waits and watches the evil overtake his world.  He builds an ark.  His fix is a technical one.  He doesn’t want to fix the world’s problems.  Then the flood comes.   That’s why Noah does not merit becoming the first Jew.  He’s just a guy.  But Abraham makes God realize the world is worth saving.  He becomes a leader among men.  His language is that of adaptive leadership.  He creates a new religion that is grounded in what we call ethical-monotheism.  He is the first to be called an Ivri, a Hebrew, “the one who crosses the river.”  He isn’t afraid to go against the current and speak up for what is right. 
There are many ways to read the story of the flood,  but in a Kanye dominated week, Noah is the cautionary tale about what happens when we isolate ourselves against evil instead of doing something.  Refusing to speak out against hate is a lesson that the world has refused to learn at our own peril, each time to our own detriment.  It only takes a Kanye, one prominent voice, to open up the floodgates.  It’s happening right now.  It’s happened before.  It will happen again. 
That is why we cannot sit back and let our usual allies fail to speak out.  That is why we must pledge this week to be Ivrim, to be Abraham. 
We must remember that one lone voice is capable of making a city worth saving. Together, all of us in this room could save the world.

Pride Shabbat 2022

10/22/2022 10:44:24 AM


Andrew Kagan

Why should we observe Pride Shabbat every year?

In my view, it’s for the same reason that we return to Beresheit each year.

As Jews, we recognize and believe deeply in the importance of studying Torah as a lifelong obligation, commitment and opportunity.  We understand that every year, we have new life lessons to learn. And in the telling and retelling, studying, questioning and exploring the mysteries, parables, nuances and commentaries, and shaping them to the world as we know it, we gain a greater love and appreciation for our community, our families, and ultimately ourselves.

And what lesson do we learn in this, the very first Parashah in our Torah, Beresheit? We read in Genesis 1:27 that we are created B’tselem Elohim, in the image of God. That’s really all you need to know. That God created each of Their people in Their image.

What did I just do there? I gave G-d they/them pronouns. I believe this is consistent and makes sense. We have to look no further that the Shema: Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One. Not one man, or one woman, but One, and All. Encompassing every type of person created in Their image. That is not the simple binary of man or woman. It’s the entire spectrum of being. For G-d, and for us.

Why is this so important to me?

It’s simple. Carole and I are the parents of a daughter who identifies as Cis-gender, queer, and oh, by the way, Jewish.  And she is married to a Black, Southern Baptist, non-binary person, who recently changed from using they/them pronouns to using they/he pronouns, as well as legally changing their name. 

Pronouns seem to be one of the most difficult concepts for people to understand and feel comfortable and natural with. Yet it is so important, for trans and non-binary people, in particular, that you recognize and respect them by using their pronouns.

There is so much to celebrate in our daughter and child-in-law’s love for each other.  In July of 2020, they got married for the first time.  Due to COVID, they were married in Prospect Park in Brooklyn, and we and most of the invited guests attended via Zoom.  But the really fun part was this past May, when they got married for a second time, this time in Savannah, GA.  Lots of friends and family.  They honored traditions from both sides of the family.  They literally jumped the broom, which is the way African-Americans signified their marriage in enslavement times. After jumping the broom, they broke the glass.  And there were puppets.  And drag queens.  For real.  We danced our shoes off.  It was a wedding for the ages.  An expression of telling and retelling their own stories, reinforcing their love for each other. Much like the way we retell and reinforce our own stories as a Jewish people.

Frankly, I’m not asking you to love or understand either my daughter or my child-in-law. But I am asking you to accept them and welcome them if they walk through the door. And further, to accept and welcome anyone who walks through our door, and wishes to be a part of our Etz Chaim family, and, most important, to see them as B’tselem Elohim, each created in the image of God. To go one step further in demonstrating our allyship, we can show our support of the LGBTQ+ community by including our own pronouns in our email signatures. We have pronoun buttons in the lobby for people to wear, for anyone who wishes to.  We also have handouts out in the lobby covering LGBTQ terminology, pronouns and Jewish values.  Learning, asking questions, demonstrating allyship. There are many ways to show support.  Or just be welcoming.  Our daughter and child-in-law are just trying to live their truth, and seek only to be allowed to do so in safety and in peace.

They say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.   I was quite simply blown away by the Kol Nidre address given by our synagogue president, Jamie Lyons.  It was unforgettable, in no small part because she used props.  [put on hat] I got this at the Atlanta Pride Parade.  Carole and I strode through downtown Atlanta with the Atlanta Jewish Community and 100,000 of our closest friends.  It was awesome!  I was very inspired to see so many people showing their true colors, and true selves. 

The importance of showing support cannot be overstated.  Mistreating and stigmatizing LGBTQ+ people, especially trans and non-binary youth, leads to psychological and emotional trauma, and worse.  According to the Trevor Project, LGBTQ+ youth are more than four times as likely to attempt suicide as their peers.  Pikuach Nefesh is the principle in Jewish law that the preservation of life overrides virtually any other religious rule of Judaism.  By being a welcoming and inclusive community where people have a safe place to go and find acceptance, we live and practice an important Jewish value, and maybe even save a life.

And B’tselem Elohim means being fully inclusive, not only of those of differing sexual orientations and gender identities, but also those who have different backgrounds and experiences of all kinds, from race to immigration status to national origin to economic status. Our synagogue has a wonderful and active Inclusion Committee, which has made incredible efforts to expand our accessibility.  Our goal is to be as welcoming and open as possible to all.

Each and every person is a part of G-d’s creation.  We are all created B’tselem Elohim.

Trust me, I am learning new things all the time, and sharing that learning with family and friends. As an ally, I think that is one of the most important things I can do. The Etz Chaim Pride Alliance is dedicated to supporting our LGBTQ+ members of all ages and their families, by educating our membership about the importance of allyship, answering questions, providing educational opportunities, and working with local and regional organizations like SOJOURN and JF&CS to raise awareness.

We are fortunate to have the support of our lay and professional leaders and the wonderful staff here at Etz Chaim.

And, of course, your support as well.

We can show support in many different ways.  [pick up sign] I was given this sign by our daughter and child-in-law as a Father’s Day gift a couple of years ago.  I have it sitting behind me on my credenza in my home office.  It’s always in the background when I’m on a Zoom call. 

At Kiddish, we will have a list of questions on each table. We encourage you to engage each other in conversation, using the questions we offer, or your own questions.  The members of the Pride Alliance are, like me, wearing a rainbow name tag, and will be going from table to table and look forward to talking with you. 

When Carole and I retired three years ago and decided to leave New York, an important consideration we had in selecting a new place to live was that it had a strong, active, vibrant and thriving Jewish community. I cannot begin to tell you how grateful we are to be members of Etz Chaim. From the moment we joined, we have felt welcomed and embraced. Etz Chaim has far exceeded anything we could have hoped for. One of the most important examples of this is the support that you have given to the creation and support of the Pride Alliance. All of us look forward to working with all of you, in growing allyship, raising awareness, educating and being welcoming.   Shabbat Shalom!

Wed, March 29 2023 7 Nisan 5783