Monthly Archives: August 2014

Memories of a Sad Night

This year is the 47th anniversary of a baseball season I will never forget and I know I share that with every New Englander above the age of 55. It was the year of the Impossible Dream, the year the Boston Red Sox shocked the baseball world by winning the American League Pennant after so many years of frustration and embarrassing play. What a season it was.

There were many fantastic moments in that season: Billy Rohr almost pitching a no-hitter in his first major league start, going 8 and 2/3 innings before giving up a base hit with the first out of the 9th coming on a tremendous catch by Carl Yastrzemski; the Sox coming back from an 8-0 deficit to beat the Angels 9-8; Jose Tartabull throwing Ken Berry of the White Sox out at home plate to end a 2-1 victory and two wins against the Twins in the last two games to secure the pennant.

But, there was one night at Fenway Park that was excruciatingly sad- and I was there, 47 years ago last night.

The Red Sox were playing the Angels and in the lead when Tony Conigliaro came up to bat in the 5th inning. Tony C was one of the most popular Sox players, especially among the younger fans. Handsome, muscular, young and quite the “man about town”, he was the epitome of the young sports idol. He even had recorded a 45 rpm rock and roll record as a singer (one side was called “Playing the Field”). He was a power hitter who had reached 100 home runs at an earlier age than any other player in American League history. He had it all.

We were sitting in the bleachers that night and I distinctly remember looking down at my scorecard as Jack Hamilton of the Angels threw the ball to the plate. I remember hearing an odd noise and looking up saw Tony Conigliaro lying on the ground motionless. The ballpark was silent. All of the excitement of the pennant race and all of the fun of the game was gone in that one horrible moment. I remember people who saw Tony get hit in the face saying that they thought he had been killed. Apparently, many of his teammates feared so as well.

He was lifted carefully onto a stretcher and carried off. He survived with damage to his vision and the Sox went on to win the pennant but the memory of that night stayed with the team and its fans.

Tony Conigliaro actually made a comeback two years later and played rather well for the Sox but his eyesight worsened again. He even came back once again briefly in 1975, ironically the next Red Sox pennant year but he only played a few games.

He died in 1990 after suffering a heart attack and a stroke 8 years before.

Some say he would have been one of the greatest hitters of all time. But, we’ll never know.

So, what is the point of this posting? Just another Red Sox memory?


But, maybe there is something more. Maybe it’s just another reminder to cherish each day, to make the most of our skills and talents while we can and to realize that no one is invincible.

I will never forget that night. I remember sitting in the back seat on the way home trying to make sense of it all.

I couldn’t figure it out that night and still haven’t and never will.

May he rest in peace and may we all cherish every day.



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D’var Torah for Parashat Ekev

I had the pleasure of talking about this week’s Torah portion, Parashat Ekev, with Shmuel Rosner of the Jewish Journal Website. You can find the D’var Torah here:


Shabbat Shalom!

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Israel and the Nations of the World

Over the years, I have done my share, some would say “more than my share”, of criticizing specific policies of the government of Israel. I should note very quickly that these comments need to be taken in the context of the many times I have celebrated what Israel means to us as Jews and to the world as well and the joy I have experienced in taking many groups on tours to Israel over the years. But, I stand by my criticism about the policies that I feel are not in line with the values and a secure future for the State.

I want Israel to be the best nation that it can be, taking into account its legitimate security needs. I want the vision of an Israel based on justice, equality and fairness to be fulfilled and I am disappointed when it is not.

But, let me be clear, as I have been so many times before. Focusing on human rights and other issues within Israel is not in any way meant to imply in any way that Israel’s failings are worse than other nations. That is obviously not the case.

In addition to focusing on issues in Israel, we as Jews, need to speak out against heinous violations of human rights and ethics that take place in the world. What we are seeing from the news stories about ISIS and other extremist groups against Christians and other minority groups is horrendous, heartbreaking and demands a response. This is uncivilized behavior for which there is no excuse and for which there should be no tolerance. I am proud that our nation is seeking to stop the advance and growth of this group and I only hope that we accomplish that mission and save the individuals who are being persecuted and slaughtered in such inhumane ways.

It is natural that we focus on the issues facing the countries that are nearest to our hearts. Recognizing that our failings are less objectionable than others in the world doesn’t remove from us the responsibility of putting our own house in order. But, it is also incumbent on us to fulfill the responsibilities of speaking out against human rights abuses throughout the world and to speak frankly and bluntly when others engage in actions which go against our values as human beings. I pray for our nation’s and the world’s strength in standing against such atrocities and stopping them.

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Sermon for Parashat Masei 5774 July 26, 2015

This is the sermon I delivered two weeks ago when I returned from vacation and had the chance to address the Congregation about the situation in Israel and Gaza.

It is good to see everyone and to be back on the bima again. I have to be honest though, this was not the best vacation I ever had. As you can imagine, the past three and a half weeks were not a good time to find relaxation and rejuvenation.
But, I have very little to complain about and I know it. As difficult as it is to watch events from a distance and worry so deeply about them, it is no comparison to those who live it daily and our thoughts and prayers are with them.
While I have not been on the bima, I wrote quite a bit over my vacation, not only first drafts of high holy day sermons but also comments on Facebook and on my blog. Let me share with you my Facebook posting from two weeks ago, a posting which many of you read:

“A nation absolutely has the right and responsibility to defend itself against rocket fire. A nation’s people should not have to live in fear. But, we must never take for granted or merely accept the necessity of bloodshed, especially of innocent children and we must never fall victim to the celebration of military might. May Israel find the proper course as it fulfills its responsibility to protect its people from harm and continue to seek every opportunity possible for an end to this madness. With hopes for calm, quiet and real peace for all.”

Let me now add to that statement. In Hamas, Israel is fighting against an enemy which seeks its destruction and which employs unspeakably horrible tactics. Those tactics endanger its own civilians and that is an understatement. The rocket attacks continue and the tunnels leading into Israel are proof of the intention for more terrorist attacks. No matter how much I detest war and am sickened by what I see, I know that Israel has to defend itself and has to destroy this capability of its sworn enemy to the best of its ability.
But, I can’t stand on this bima this morning without placing this entire situation in context and without offering a fervent hope for an end to this horrible, horrible madness and for compassion for the innocent.

There is a beautiful Midrash which teaches that when God created the world, God was afraid that if the world was created only with strict justice, it would not survive. Nor would it survive if it were only created with compassion, with mercy. Thus, God brought both of the Divine attributes: din and rachamim, justice and compassion, to the creation of the world.

So, let us think about compassion. Regardless of our opinions on Operation Protective Edge, the moment we stop feeling compassion for those innocent people in Gaza is the day we no longer are reacting as Jews. How compassion should be brought into the political and military equation is a theoretical, philosophical question for each of us to decide. It is the Israeli military and government’s responsibility to answer that question pragmatically. I know that this is being discussed and I pray being put into action. But, for all of us, compassion is critical. We can’t ever lose it. We should never apologize for it and we can’t ever diminish its importance.
Over the past few days, I have become very concerned about the sudden proliferation of statements against against the ideas of liberal or progressive Jews. There are so many out there who are mocking what they see as naivete or even celebrating the crumbling of liberal ideals as they vilify those who still are upholding hopes for peace or reconciliation or who have dared to question whether the degree of Israel’s military actions are justified.
I’m not talking here about those with clearly anti-Israel or anti-Semitic viewpoints. I reject those entirely and I have no patience for them. I’m talking about those who love and support Israel but whose compassion is outweighing other emotions they feel. Those who openly say that they see their own children’s faces in the eyes of the children of Gaza as well as in the eyes of the children of S’derot, who still yearn for a better day and say military strength is not the ultimate answer.
I don’t think only “progressive” people should feel this way. All of us should feel this pain. All of us know this is not what Zionists had in mind when creating the Jewish State. Is military action necessary at this point? One could certainly argue that it is. But desirable? Of course not, all of us left or right want calm. All of us want peace and all of us must feel compassion.
But, for those who choose to say it more clearly, even as they express their love for Israel, rather than just put those ideals aside until calmer times, I say kol hakavod.
One of those people is Dr. Alex Sinclair, who is the director of programs in Israel Education and adjunct assistant professor of Jewish Education at The Jewish Theological Seminary. Unlike most of us in this room, he has had to run with his family to a secure room when the sirens are heard. In a piece he wrote for Ha’aretz which I urge you all to read, Dr. Sinclair tries to confront the popular idea that a liberal is a conservative who hasn’t been mugged yet. He has been mugged. He has felt the danger. And yet, he has not given up his progressive ideas and will not give up hoping for a better future.

Let me quote a piece of his writing that I share with his permission as we were in contact this week. He writes about what he thinks as he looks to the future:

“My own way of responding to the situation has been to focus on the following points:
1. Most Palestinians want to live in peace. They are held hostage by Hamas just as much as we are. This doesn’t mean to say that most Palestinians like Israel (they don’t), or accept Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state (they don’t), but it’s important to remember this core truth as a starting point.
2. As painful as this situation is for us, it is hundreds of times more painful for the Palestinians of Gaza, who do not have air raid sirens to warn them, reinforced rooms to run to, or iron domes to shelter them. Regardless of whether we agree or disagree with the rightness, wisdom, or specific tactics of Operation Protective Edge, we must retain our ability to empathize with the suffering of the ordinary Palestinians in Gaza.

3. The aftermath of this Operation will require a lot of rehabilitative work for the relationship between us and the Palestinians – even more than the vast amount that was necessary before. Many Palestinians simply hate us. In some cases, this is because of deep-rooted religious extremist fanaticism. But in many cases, it’s simply because, in their eyes, we’ve killed their friends, relatives, and innocent children; we have made their lives miserable; we prevent them from traveling beyond the confines of Gaza; and so on. Again, my point here is not to argue whether or not these Israeli policies are right or wrong, are justifiable, defendable, or not. It is to remind ourselves that in order to live in peace with our neighbors, we are going to need to talk with them, and in talking with them we are going to need to remember just how much pain and anger and understandable hatred they will have to overcome (as will we).
I don’t underestimate just how difficult and perhaps Sisyphean this task is. My experience of Arab-Jewish dialogue has taught me that the barriers are great, the distances between the sides are vast, and the narratives are often mutually exclusive. But I have also seen that with time, investment, and careful facilitation, breakthroughs can be made. To jaw-jaw is always better than to war-war, said Churchill.
Being a liberal doesn’t mean that you have to condemn Operation Protective Edge; but it does mean that despite and along with the painful situation we have all found ourselves dragged into, we need to be clear and constant about how to break the cycle of violence in the future; to remember that most Palestinians want peace, to empathize with and acknowledge the terrible pain and suffering that Palestinians, especially those in Gaza, have endured, and to demand of our leadership and theirs that as soon as a ceasefire takes place, we all embark on a long-overdue process of dialogue, mutual understanding, empathy, acknowledgement and recognition, leading towards a two-state solution. Otherwise, all these deaths, on both sides, will truly be in vain.”

I could have quoted many Israelis this morning, and others have said vastly different things. But, I chose to share these words with you because they helped me to face a question that came to me as I sat down to write this week. I asked myself: “Specifically,What should a Rabbi say about the situation?” And besides expressing support for Israel and concern for the innocent people in Gaza, I decided that there was one other thing I had to say. What I had to say is encapsulated in my favorite political quotation of all time and it is reflected in Dr. Sinclair’s words.

Then Governor Bill Clinton began his acceptance speech at the Democratic convention in 1992 by talking about his hometown of Hope, Arkansas and the values he learned there. He talked about the difficult times that he faced growing up and that the country was facing and ended his speech by saying what I say to you today, in the spirit of Dr. Sinclair’s words. Despite all that is happening and all of our conflicts:

    “I still believe in a place called hope”.

It is the obligation of a Rabbi, and of every Jew, to continue to hold out a vision of a better world, a vision of hope.
But hope demands actions and a different path when the time is right.
Please God, May that time come soon. And when it does may we all show as much passion, as much support, as much solidarity for Israel with her quest for peace as we have shown for the military efforts of the past three weeks.
Until that day comes, may all the children, of all ages, go to sleep at night and awaken in the morning having dreamed of a better world. And may that world come to be.

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Tisha B’av 5774

Today is Tisha B’av, the fast of the 9th of Av, the saddest day on the Jewish Calendar. It is the anniversary of the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem and recognized as the anniversary of several other sad events in our history.

This year, as we do every year, we read the book of Lamentations, Eichah, during the evening and the morning and read  kinot, dirges, mourning the loss of the Temples and the destruction of Jerusalem.

The book of Eichah is heartbreaking. Its descriptions of death and destruction, pain and suffering are so powerful and the language so intense that one can not help but be moved by the words and the mournful tune. One can imagine Jerusalem lying in ruins with its people suffering in such deep pain.

But, as I read Eichah this year, I did not think of Jerusalem, I thought of Gaza.

Let me be clear as I have been all along in my blog postings. I am fully aware of Hamas’ desire to destroy Israel and I take them at their word that this is what they seek. I do not doubt that Hamas uses horrible tactics such as using human shields or placing their own civilians in harm’s way. And I certainly do not question Israel’s right to self-defense against those who seek to destroy it.

But, I could not get the pictures of Gaza out of my mind as I read Eichah this year.

While I worry about my friends and family members throughout Israel who have to run to shelters when the siren is heard, this time it is Gaza that in the words of Lamentations is the city that sits solitary and destroyed with its residents seeking in vain for protection.

While I cry for the families of brave Israeli soldiers who answered the call to protect their country, I cry as well for the children of Gaza who have been killed or wounded or left without family to protect them and help them grow. I cry for all of those who were not militants, who did not seek to destroy or hurt others,  who had no place to run and no place to hide from the attacks.

I don’t pretend to be a military expert. I have no idea what Israel could or should have done differently, if anything, to prevent the massive death and destruction that Gaza has experienced. But, regardless of the justification of Israel to act in self-defense, the “city” that I thought of when I considered Tisha B’av’s call to picture a destroyed city was, in fact, Gaza.

I understand that war is not pretty and that sometimes it comes down to “us” or “them” and our tradition would tell us never to denigrate the importance of your life and your security in deference to an enemy’s. I get that. But, I still can’t stop thinking of the innocent people in Gaza and wondering whether it could have been different.

Should, God willing, this cease fire hold, I pray that Israel immediately begins to put all of its energy and resources into finding a way to make peace with the Palestinians and give their people a chance at a secure, independent life, the same we hope for our own people in the State of Israel.

And, if that does happen, I pray that Jews throughout the world will stand with Israel as it works for peace with as much solidarity, passion and loyalty as we do during times of war.

This Shabbat is Shabbat Nachamu, the Shabbat of comfort. May God bring comfort to all.

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