Monthly Archives: November 2014

The Search for Justice and Equality

Once again, this nation faces the questions of justice and equality stemming from the killing of a young African American man by a law enforcement official. The tragic killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri by Officer Darren Wilson was sadly a story so similar to those we have seen before.

I have to make my standard comment that “I wasn’t there” and I haven’t read or heard all of the evidence that the grand jury heard so I can’t make a judgment as to Officer Wilson’s guilt or innocence. But, I can say that there were many aspects of the grand jury procedure in this case which raise questions as to the objectivity of the entire endeavor and those should raise concerns for all of us.

There is no justification for violence, looting and damage to property. But, the anger that is felt after the grand jury decision needs to be recognized and confronted.

Regardless of what one feels about this legal proceeding and regardless of the great strides towards equality that have been made in this country, it remains true that African Americans, particularly young African American males are, in many situations, subject to profiling which leaves them vulnerable. That any citizen of this country should feel unsafe on the streets because of their race is unacceptable and must be addressed.

While we may not know what happened in Ferguson that night, we do know that this country must confront the reality of racism as it affects all of us. The question is bigger than just Ferguson. As President Obama said on Monday night: “We need to recognize that the situation in Ferguson speaks to broader challenges that we still face as a nation. The fact is in too many parts of this country a deep distrust exists between law enforcement and communities of color. Some of this is the result of the legacy of racial discrimination in this country. And this is tragic because nobody needs good policing more than poor communities with higher crime rates.”

We must continue to address the issue of racism in a pro-active way rather than just respond when a tragic event occurs. We must make progress in our goal to be a nation of equality and justice for all.

May the family of Michael Brown be comforted by real change in this country.




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Israel as a Jewish State

Four years ago, on Kol Nidre night, I delivered a sermon on the subject of Israel as Jewish State. You can find the sermon at

During that sermon, I stressed, as I had done many times before, my belief in the importance of Israel being a “Jewish state”.

Israel was founded as the state of the Jewish people, dedicated to the concepts of peace, and justice for all of its citizens. Here is a section of that declaration translated into English:

THE STATE OF ISRAEL will be open to the immigration of Jews and for the Ingathering of the Exiles from all countries of their dispersion; will promote the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; will be based on the precepts of liberty, justice and peace as invisaged by the prophets of Israel; will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of race, creed or sex; will guarantee full freedom of conscience, worship, education and culture; will safeguard the sanctity and inviolability of the shrines and Holy Places of all religions; and will dedicate itself to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.

These were noble and challenging goals and throughout its history, Israel has attempted to reflect the character of a “Jewish State” while espousing equality for all of its citizens and those under its authority. To say the least, it has not always succeeded but this has been the stated vision and the goal of the state.

The term “Jewish State” means different things to different people. As I stated in my sermon, I believe that  our values as Jews are all important in this term “Jewish State”. Our values would dictate that Israel must continue to reflect the principles of justice, equality and respect for all of its citizens. If Israel weakens its stand on democracy and equality, it ceases to be a Jewish State and becomes only “a state for Jews”. If Israel gives more rights, more protection and more respect to Jews than it does to other citizens, it is not acting according to the values of our tradition.

This week, the Knesset will vote on a controversial bill which will establish a law identifying Israel as “the nation state of the Jewish people”. This, in the opinion of many, is a dangerous law which could lead to further tension and further discrimination of non-Jews in Israel.

While one of the amendments proposed to the law would explicitly insure equal rights for every citizen, one has to ask why this law needs to be created when the status quo has existed in basic Israeli law for so many years. And, one must ask  why it has to be created especially now at a time of increased tension between Israeli Jews and Israeli Arab citizens.

There are many experts in Israeli Law and Jewish leaders both in Israel and in the Diaspora who point out that Israel’s Jewish character and its democracy have been established through laws dealing with specific situations.  This law, even if it is amended and “watered down” from some of its original text will only serve to heighten the potential difference in legal standing between Jews and non-Jews within the state. It clearly and unequivocally designates the non Jew as “the other” not worthy of equal consideration under the law.

I completely agree with those who oppose this law. It is the wrong law for the wrong time.

That Israel should continue to be a “Jewish State” is absolutely appropriate in my opinion and I consider that designation critical towards our continued relationship with the state. But, any law which seeks to emphasize that designation in order to draw distinctions between citizens is wrong. It is dangerous for Israel and runs counter to our belief as Jews in the equality of all human beings. To pass such a law would be a tragedy.


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Prayers for a Peaceful Shabbat

I have started to write this blog posting three times over the past week and each time, I found myself at a loss for what to say.

The horrific, brutal murder of 5 men in the Jerusalem synagogue terrorist attack of Monday is first and foremost a terrible human tragedy. My thoughts and prayers for comfort go to the families of those who were so ruthlessly killed and our hopes for a refuah shlayma, a complete recovery for those who were wounded. There are no sufficient words to describe the horror of this attack.

The context of this act of terror and random violence is also so very troubling. As I have written in this blog and said from the bima, the framing of the ongoing conflict in religious terms is so deeply, deeply worrisome. The focus of attention on the Temple Mount and the perception that Israel wishes to change the carefully crafted status quo has fostered additional anger among Palestinians. This status quo which is based on compromise and hopes for mutual respect must continue and Israeli officials must do all that they can to prevent even the smallest of provocative acts concerning the Temple Mount area and Palestinian leaders must try to restore calm and reject and prevent violence. The leaders must, at least in this one area, publicly work together to make it clear that this status quo will continue.

But, that alone will not stop the cycle of violence.

I have never been as pessimistic about the possibility of a peaceful solution to the conflict as I am at this moment in time. Israel’s legitimate deep concern for its own survival and security and the Palestinians’ legitimate goal of self-determination and an end to the occupation seem now to be so at odds with each other that it is difficult to imagine any solution. The fear, the anger, the suspicion have never seemed so deeply entrenched.

But, Shabbat is a time for hope.We can not give up hope even if that hope is fading so dramatically.

May this Shabbat bring some small measure of quiet and calm in Jerusalem. May we see some small progress in cooperation and compassion. May people throughout Jerusalem and throughout the region recognize the humanity of the other and may the new week bring new hope.

May all who love Jerusalem pray for her peace on this Shabbat.

Blessed be are You O Lord Our God who spreads the Sukkah of peace over Jerusalem, the city of peace, the city of dreams, the city of reaching out to God. May all people find peace, wisdom and humanity coming from the holy city.

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Sadness and Tension in Jerusalem

The horrendous terrorist attacks which have taken place in Jerusalem in recent days have caused such concern and sadness for all of us. My prayers and thoughts go out to the families of those who have been killed and to those who have been wounded. These horrendous acts deserve condemnation and it is once again shocking to read of those organizations and individuals, including Hamas officials, who praise and give honor to these acts of violence.

While these acts of violence and general tension would be sad in any situation, it is particularly sad that, at least to an extent, their source comes from religious disputes.

The compromises  regarding the Temple Mount and the Western Wall areas which have been worked out over the decades may be unsatisfying in many ways but they have helped to establish and retain a relatively quiet atmosphere. There have of course been flare-ups of violence and unrest but for the most part the area remained calm. But, now we are seeing a revival of the type of religious controversy which exacerbates an already tense situation.

Arab claims that there was never a Jewish Temple on the mount are horrendous and an insult to Jews and any student of history. But I also firmly believe that those Jews who dream of a third temple need to be stopped and prevented from doing anything  in small or big ways to lay the groundwork for such an idea to become reality or even give the appearance of a move in that direction.  The status quo, while it may not be ultimately satisfying for all needs to be embraced and endorsed and respect given to the holy places of all faiths. Prime Minister Netanyahu’s statement that he will continue to uphold the status quo is a hopeful sign that he recognizes the importance of this carefully crafted compromise regarding the holy sites and it is critical that Israel allow free access to the Temple Mount to Moslems for prayer.

The entire issue of the status of Jerusalem in any potential peace agreement is of course so difficult. I strongly believe that an agreement must honor the integrity of Arab neighborhoods in Jerusalem and that is why  the eviction of Arab famlies from areas which are clearly Arab neighborhoods and the settling of Jews in those homes for the purpose of establishing a Jewish presence is a provocative and oppressive act and is wrong. Jews and Arabs should, of course, be able to live wherever they want to live and I understand the desire of Jews to see the city reflect the long tradition and love our people have shown for Jerusalem over the centuries. But, a love for Jerusalem should be reflected in bringing peace to the holy city and peace will not come unless residents are respected equally and both sides work, God willing, towards a fair and equitable long term solution.

In one sense,  building of new homes in Jewish neighborhoods over the “green line” should not be controversial  if it is evident that those neighborhoods would remain in Israel if a two state solution were ever reached. But, the timing of such building and the statements by Israeli government officials that such building is intended as retaliation for Palestinian political or terrorist actions is , I believe, very bad strategy and is offensive. This is not to deny or understate the evil of acts of  terrorism or threats of violence. These are intolerable and certainly are a tremendous obstacle towards peace. But, it does not help the situation in any short term or long term way for Israel to build right there and right now when every act becomes a further detriment to peace.

As I have written in this blog many times, I fell in love with the city of Jerusalem during my first days in Israel in 1979. As Jews, we should not apologize for the love affair we have had with Jerusalem for millennia. But, I believe our love should be expressed by helping Jerusalem to be the city it can be and by rejecting and condemning violence and any actions which stand in the way of a settlement of the Israel-Palestinian conflict.

May we see the peace of Jerusalem and all who love her.

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A Sad Loss

There are a lot of important issues to write about this morning: the mid-term elections, the situation in Jerusalem and other critical issues which should be on all of our minds. But, in the eclectic spirit of this blog, I want to write about someone who performed a very important function for many of us. He made us laugh and maybe taught us something about our cars in the process.

Tom Magliozzi died yesterday at the age of 77. He was one of the “Tapett” brothers, who brought the show Car Talk to people across the country and around the world each week on NPR. I have to admit that I had never listened to the show until about a year ago. I’m not that interested in cars and even knowing they were from Boston, didn’t make me want to listen to two guys named Click and Clack talk about automobiles. But, a year or so ago, I turned to one of the NPR stations on Satellite Radio which was airing an old episode of Car Talk and I realized what I had been missing all of these years.

Yes, they were talking about cars and I actually learned a little from their conversations. But, what I particularly found endearing was their way of talking with callers. I love to observe how different people in various areas of broadcasting interact with the public and they had a knack for laughing with people, pushing their jokes just far enough to stop short of insulting the caller, chit-chatting with them while they were trying to figure out a good answer to their problem and generally made them feel good about calling the show. That is one of the two things about their show that I particular liked as both Tom and Ray (and don’t ask me which was which, I’m still not sure) made their callers and their listeners laugh.

But, for me, the highlight of the show came at the end of each hour and with Satellite radio playing three hour long episodes each afternoon, we got to hear this three times each day. They would always end by reading the “credits’, the names of fictitious individuals who contributed to their show and they were the most marvelous puns I have ever heard and that is not an exaggeration. I don’t know who wrote them but they were fantastic.

Among the best: the Russian chauffeur Picov Andropov, the airplane seat tester: Wilma Buttfit, the head of the working mother’s division: Erasmus B Dragon and my particular favorite, the videographer from the Tel Aviv office: Shlomo Replay. If any of these escape you, stick with it, you’ll figure it out and then just type in Car Talk Credits on an internet search engine and you’ll get the entire list.

Thanks Tom for all the laughs. Some things live on after our death and good humor and good memories certainly do.


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