Monthly Archives: January 2013

Follow up to yesterday’s post

The elections in Israel provided a surprise, unexpected according to most polls. While Prime Minister Netanyahu’s party did win the most seats and his party and those to the right of his earned a majority, it was a much slimmer majority than most predicted. Thus, in accordance with the system of government in Israel, the Prime Minister will be given the first chance at forming a government. He has a stark choice to make. Although there are many different analyses of what he could or could not do, the editorial in today’s lays out the choices in rather stark terms and echoes some of what I wrote yesterday. The editorial can be found at


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Yesterday and Today: Washington DC and Jerusalem

President Obama’s inaugural address was a remarkable speech. It was uplifting and courageous and sent a clear message of his vision for this country. I found his concentration on the concept of equality to be stirring and full of promise and his extension of that concept to gay and lesbian Americans was surprisingly frank and I was deeply moved and I am deeply grateful for his position.

I know that many in this country will not agree with the specifics of President Obama’s statements. That is their prerogative. That is what it means to live in a democracy. But, it is also the prerogative of the person elected president to set the course that he or she views as proper for the nation and, even if there could be debate about the specifics, I would hope that the vast majority of Americans would agree in principle with the values he stressed: equality, responsibility and an unwavering search for peace even as we take on the responsibility of protecting our nation and our values.

As we celebrated one ritual of democracy yesterday with the inauguration, Israelis today are celebrating another ritual of democracy. Election Day in Israel has come after a long and some have said boring or uninspiring campaign as leaders are elected to shape the future of the Jewish State.

If the polls are correct, the government will be led once again by Prime Minister Netanyahu and, presuming he can form a government and it seems clear he will be able to do so, it will be a government formed from the “right of center” parties, perhaps bringing the country further to the “right” than in the past. This will be a government which, if pre-election speeches are any indication, will support the current settlements and create new ones and, while continuing to speak about peace negotiations, will not consider the current climate the appropriate time to enter into such negotiations claiming that there is no partner for peace. Perhaps, and this remains to be seen, the government will state that it has come to the conclusion that many, sadly, have come to, that a “two state solution” is impossible. It would then be forced to articulate its vision for an alternative solution (and I have yet to hear an alternative which is reasonable) or opt for a continued status quo which is harmful, in my opinion, to both sides.

But, when the government is elected, it will be by the will of the people. And, as I said above about our country, those who are elected have that right to articulate the vision, both in general and in specific for the nation. Most will agree, some will not. But, the will of the people will be reflected in their decisions.

This places many American Jews who love Israel but who oppose in the strongest terms the continued occupation in a difficult situation. On the one hand, we have no right to criticize Israelis for their choices. And, keeping in mind, that they are the people who face the ramifications of their political decisions much more directly than we do and that it is their lives and the lives of their children which are one the line, one could say that it is not our place to question.

On the other hand, as a Jewish state which seeks the support and concern of Jews (and others) around the world, what do we do if the values expressed by the Israeli public are not those we share? Do we continue to speak our minds hoping to give strength to those in Israel who see things the way many of us do? Or do we realize that this is the choice Israelis have made and we must support the decisions of the current government? Or, do we disengage completely from Israel and admit that the gulf between our values has grown too large?

I will opt for the first option. We can not disengage ourselves and give up on the cherished and critical relationship between Diaspora Jews and Israel. But, we can not simply stand by if we think the direction of the country is misguided. While we can’t vote in Israeli elections, we can continue respectfully and fairly to speak about the  values we feel are important in our congregations, work to support those in Israel who share our vision and we can, in appropriate, positive, constructive and cautious ways, encourage our government, where appropriate, to continue to urge Israelis and Palestinians toward a path of compromise and reconciliation. That is the path I hope that those of us who are dismayed by the predicted results of the election in Israel will take.

May the coming years see peace and strength in Israel and in our nation.


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A Thought After Sweatshirt Shabbat

We have a wonderful tradition at Beth Israel called Sweatshirt Shabbat. Once a year, during the middle of winter, we encourage people to wear sweatshirts to shul and to join in a special kiddush featuring Cholent, Shabbat stews. This Shabbat was Sweatshirt Shabbat and even though the day was unseasonably warm, it was a great day.

Each year, I pick a special sweatshirt for the occasion- often cheering on my beloved New England Patriots- but this year I needed something new. So, after seeing a great tv commercial for the upcoming “prequel” to one of my favorite movies of all time: Monsters Inc., I came to shul with a ‘Monsters University” sweatshirt, bought just for this special moment. The shirt featured the trademark single eye in the middle and I wore it proudly.

I was absolutely stunned by the numbers of people who looked at my shirt with not the slightest hint of recognition and after I explained it continued to stare at me without any appreciation for this work of cinematic achievement.

How could this be?

So, the purpose of this simple blog posting is to implore you. If you have never seen Monsters Inc., forget about seeing any of the current great movies (you have to see Lincoln but it can wait), and find Monsters Inc. at the theater in 3d if you can still find or get it on demand or on the internet or whatever and watch it as soon as you can. I guarantee you will find the story absolutely captivating and the humor of the highest quality. And, if you have seen it and loved it, please respond to this blog and restore my faith in the current state of cultural appreciation.

Shavua Tov!



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A 70th Birthday Tribute

I have many musical favorites and I go through periods when I find myself particularly drawn to the music of one or another of those favorites. Sometimes, it’s my mood that dictates my choice. But, often just hearing one song from a favorite musician reminds me how much I miss hearing his or her songs and I begin to play them over and over again.

It happened to me a few days ago. Ellen and I were traveling in Northern Michigan just after Christmas and as we walked down a very quiet Front St in Traverse City seeing the faded Christmas decorations, feeling the cold wind, a melody and lyrics suddenly jumped into my mind. A sad, sad holiday song with a glimmer of hope that “it doesn’t have to be that way”:

Snowy nights and Christmas lights

Icy windowpanes

Make me wish that we could be Together again
And the windy winter avenues

Just don’t seem the same

And the Christmas carols sound like blues

But the choir is not to blame

I hope many of you recognize these words and will immediately run to your cd cabinet or itunes or youtube and listen to the beautiful melody and one of the sweetest, expressive voices that country rock or folk rock or whatever you might want to call it has ever produced. The timing of my rediscovery of his music was  ironic for, had he lived, Jim Croce would be 70 years old today, January 10. His tragic death in a plane crash in 1973 was such a t loss and 40 years later, his music still is among my favorites.

Unlike Harry Chapin, Lennon and McCartney or Jim Steinman (who wrote many of MeatLoaf’s songs), I don’t think I’ve ever quoted Jim Croce in a sermon (although I might try it this week). I don’t know that his words inspire the kind of spiritual thoughts that the others I mentioned do for me. But, his gentle expressive voice and the emotionally charged lyrics have stood the test of time.

If all you’ve heard of Jim Croce’s music is Bad Bad Leroy Brown or Time in A Bottle or I’ve Got a Name or Operator, (all fine songs), you owe it to yourself to find some of the others: Alabama Rain, One Less Set of Footsteps, Lover’s Cross (my favorite), his beautiful version of Old Man River  and, of course, It Doesn’t Have to Be That Way.

So many of songs have a melancholy character to them, of love lost, of disappointment, of reminiscence and each of them in their own way is so beautiful.

In one of those moments that just seem to be “beshert” (meant to be), on the day after we wandered down Front Street and the Jim Croce Christmas song came to my mind, Ellen and I were in a gallery in Suttons Bay, Michigan when suddenly the sound of “Lover’s Cross” filled the room. But, it wasn’t Jim Croce singing. I didn’t like the version quite as much but it was the first time I had heard the song sung by anyone else. I did a bit of searching on the internet and found the version I had heard. In fact, it was recorded by Jim’s son, A J Croce. Suddenly, I appreciated once again the power that music has to span years and lives.

I wonder what direction Jim Croce’s music would have taken. Maybe I would have liked his “later songs”, maybe not. But, some would have loved them even more while many of us (most likely including me) would have just kept singing the old songs over. Sadly, new songs were not to be. But those of us who love his music can listen with great appreciation for his enormous talent shared for much too brief a time.

Although it really doesn’t matter in terms of my appreciation for the man and his music, and I didn’t know this until a few days ago, Jim Croce converted to Judaism and is buried in a Jewish Cemetery. So, it seems particularly appropriate to say that his music keeps him bitzror hahayim, in the bond of life, as we play and sing his beautiful songs. May his memory- and his music-be for a blessing.


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A Text Study- Part 1

Most of the posts that I have written for this blog fall into one of two categories. I am either writing about current events or some aspect of nostalgia for the 60s and 70s, the era I grew up in. I’ll continue with those posts in the months ahead but I also want, occasionally, to use this blog as an opportunity to share some of my favorite traditional Jewish texts. I’ll begin by sharing a text I plan to teach my 5th grade class in Mishna this coming week.

The Mishna in Baba Kamma chapter 3, mishna 8 discusses the question of where the responsibility lies when there is a collision between two people on the street resulting in damages to an item being carried by one of the individuals. The Mishna begins by saying: If one is walking with a jug and another with a wooden plank and the two objects collide, there is no obligation for either party to pay damages since everyone has the right to walk on the street.

However, the Mishna then presents another situation. Let’s imagine that the person with the plank is in the front and the person with the jug is behind him, if the jug is broken by the plank, the person carrying the plank is exempt from any blame since he was walking in the front. This applies unless that person suddenly stops without giving warning to the person behind him carrying the jug. If that happens, the person carrying the plank is responsible for paying damages. However, if the person carrying the plank said: “stop”, and the person carrying the jug still bumped into him, the person carrying the plank is not responsible because he tried to prevent the accident with a warning.

Then the Mishna gives the opposite example. Say the person carrying the jug is walking in the front. If the person carrying the plank  bumps the plank into the jug and breaks it,  the person carrying the plank is responsible since he could have prevented the accident. If however, the person carrying the jug were to suddenly stop, the person carrying the plank behind him would not be responsible unless the person carrying the jug said: “Stop” in which case there is liability since he tried to prevent the accident with a warning.

When I teach this class, I always begin the class by showing the kids the youtube video of the old 1980’s Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup commercials in which two people bump into each other, one carrying chocolate the other peanut butter. (See, I got some nostalgia in anyway). But, this is a very serious discussion.

Think about the responsibility for a car accident in which one car rear ends the one in front. In general, it would be considered the fault of the person in the rear car. But, what if the driver of the front car made a sudden unjustified stop, who then becomes responsible? And, how do brake lights figure into the discussion. Is this the equivalent of saying; “stop!” which places the responsibility back upon the rear car?

The important message for the kids and for all of us is that when we walk (or drive) down the street, we have to recognize the equal rights of the person on the street with us. We also have to realize that when we walk down the street with a fragile object, we have the responsibility to make sure that we are taking the proper precautions to insure that we get home safely. We also have the responsibility when we are walking with a dangerous object that we are taking the proper precautions to insure we don’t cause any damage. The Mishna understood the complexity of the situation and tried to set up a structure by which we can determine responsibility. But, at the same time, the Mishna would have urged us to go “lifnim mishurat hadin”, beyond the letter of the law by taking extra precautions to protect ourselves and others as well.

Back to nostalgia next week. For now, think about how these scenarios might in fact apply to situations in our own lives.

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