Category Archives: Uncategorized

Windsor Ontario

Next time I plan to share a provocative piece by a leading Reform rabbi about the gravest threat to the future of liberal Judaism. It fits much of the Conservative movement as well. But for now, this has to be about Gaza.

On the bike ride, October 25 was a relatively peaceful day around the Gaza strip so we kept to the usual route heading south and adjacent to the strip. We had a rest stop overlooking the strip where a local woman, a Young Judea friend with the director of the Arava Institute, talked to us about life in the Israeli communities nearby. It was in ways the oddest talk. She had had a difficult night, spent mostly in shelters. Though she talked about friends on the other side who want peace and the need to find a new way of dealing with the challenges that Gaza represents, in the end it was clear that the trauma of life on the border far outweighed anything positive she might have wanted to share. She got stuck on her lists of fires started and rockets fired. We could only begin to understand what life must be like in the region, on both sides of the border.

The situation there escalated soon after, culminating in the 400 or so rockets fired at nearby Israeli communities in just one day early this week. A Druze soldier and a Palestinian living in Ashkelon (where we spent the first night) died, and there were many dozen injuries. The Israel Air Force bombed countless targets, each time giving any occupants (usually Hamas operatives) time to leave before they would be in danger, just like the Palestinians do when they send off their rockets. A ceasefire may be in place now, one which might just bring down the Netanyahu government. To some Israelis, the ceasefire was a sign of weakness and ultimately a surrender which will only serve to give Hamas a little breathing room to wreak worse havoc soon while emboldening enemies on other fronts. Maybe there is more positive than meets the eye to the conclusion of this round of fighting, I/we hope so.

I lived near Detroit for 11 years. Just imagine if the people who run Windsor Ontario, just across the Detroit river, began firing rockets into civilian areas of Detroit. Don’t we think there would be a strong reaction from the U.S. military and the rocket fire would cease? But we are dealing with the Middle East, and the geopolitics are so problematical. Israel has so little room to maneuver, and Hamas (and Iran) so little interest in peace. The people of Gaza are also victims, and as long as Hamas is in charge, they won’t have a voice and their future will remain dim.

Finally, I think back to where my connection with Israel began. My kibbutz in my first time in Israel, in 1964, Kibbutz Beeri, was very close to Gaza. Occasionally there would be fedayeen infiltrations in the region, usually single individuals, nothing like this. War was in the Sinai, or Lebanon or Syria, not a mile away. Those were the good old days, in retrospect. We hope some smart person figures out a way to at least bring them back.
Best wishes. Bill Rudolph


Men and Women

Today is Kristallnacht. Some look at Pittsburgh and worry that the Nazi path is maybe being replicated here. I think not, and point to the outpouring of support for Pittsburgh Jews and I think all Jews that came from the non Jewish community, even football players, in cities and towns across America. We should relax a little.

These are very emotional days, and I/we struggle to make sense of them. One direction my mind has taken is thinking about gender. My thinking is mostly in the form of questions for which I am seeking answers:

Why are men almost always the shooters in massacres like Thousand Oaks, the Mandalay Bay Hotel, Orlando, Pittsburgh, you name it?
Why are priests, not nuns, almost always the Catholic clergy found guilty of sexual abuse?
Why do a disproportionate number of women just elected to the Congress, including two of the three in Virginia, come from military or CIA backgrounds? Would they have been elected without those backgrounds?
Why did women vote more for Democrats in this election (50-50 among women for the two parties’ candidates vs. 40-60 favoring Republicans for men)?
Why does “everyone” believe that if women ran the world there would be less conflict and violence?

These are different questions, but somehow they come together in my mind. It can’t just be about testosterone, which men produce in 20 times greater amounts than women each and every day? Is it something else, or not one thing? I look to you for answers.

God created men and women with differences. We know many of them and we celebrate them and love how they make life interesting. Men excel at some things, women at other things. Working together, men and women can do great things and really perform miracles. We need more of that togetherness, being on the same page, in this fractured world. I wish I knew how to get there.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom.    Bill Rudolph

Mitzpeh Ramon to Pittsburgh

I write two days after my return from the Israel Ride, and six days after the horrors in the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. The Ride went fairly well despite sandstorms and flash flood warnings that curtailed our riding on two of the five ride days, and despite my biking having deteriorated a bit from my last ride in 2014.

On Saturday night, in Mitzpeh Ramon in the Negev, we gathered on an overlook to the erosion crater there for Havdalah. It had been a beautiful Shabbat and all 220 riders gathered to witness its conclusion. Shabbat went out about 6:30PM. Riders’ phones began to light up a few minutes into the ceremony with the very first news from Pittsburgh (seven hours behind us.) Nothing was really the same after that and for the concluding days of the Ride. Though 6000 miles away, and in a country where savage acts against innocent Jews are almost commonplace, it was not business as usual. That of course was reflected across the globe, in thousands of Jewish communities and millions of Jewish hearts.

Pittsburgh is one of the few Jewish communities that never left the precincts of the city to move out to the suburbs. It is a pretty tight knit community. We had some Pittsburgh people on the ride, and they knew some of the victims. We all, to an extent, felt and feel like victims.

Robert Samuelson, our Beth El neighbor, wrote this morning in the Post how Jews of my generation assumed that our children would grow up in a world where Jews were considered as equals, as everyone should be treated, and we were wrong. Anti-semitism, seen in neighborhood covenants and companies and clubs that wouldn’t accept us, had not disappeared, it had simply “hibernated.” “The tendency,” he continues, “to turn normal disappointments and setbacks into obsessive hatred and deranged anger has proved indestructible. It’s made worse by being promoted by national leaders who exploit it for political advantage. This creates a permissive climate for overheated rhetoric and (ultimately) violence that, in varying forms, affects much of our political culture.”

There is a wider perspective on this as well, which has been reflected in the numerous heart-warming shows of support from the non Jewish world. The slaughter of 11 people is a great tragedy, but so were the killings of dozens and dozens of others in many different settings – schools, concerts, churches. Our descent into this societal inferno is obviously a condition that affects more than Jews. We are all losing the essential cohesion which was the promise of America. It is very sad.

Back to our own Jewish community, I understand that rabbis are struggling mightily with a level of fear that is as unprecedented as the event itself, a sense of “dread, realized” that is exceptionally difficult to navigate. Each Jewish community is grappling with making meaning and centering itself where it is, understanding how it relates to its neighbors and local officials and the future it sees for ourselves, both its challenges and its opportunities. It is hard to keep our communities from rushing to find ways to restore a feeling of security during a moment in the lives of many Jews when it is very difficult to “feel” secure, no matter what we do.

In real ways, the world is watching to see what we WILL do in the aftermath of this attack. The resolve of the world Jewish community to never give in to terror or hatred has lit the lamp for many of the most significant efforts the modern world has known in arenas of democracy, open society, tolerance and humanitarian conviction. We must keep that resolve. Shuls should be full this Shabbat. And we should enter and leave this Shabbat in possession of ourselves, our values, and our right to inhabit our prayer spaces in peace and security.

Shabbat Shalom, Bill Rudolph

Jerusalem to Eilat

Next week, G-d willing, my bike and I will be in Israel for my fourth Israel Ride. We do Jerusalem to Eilat, Shabbat in Mitzpeh Ramon, 350 miles but it’s all downhill on the map. Proceeds of the fundraising going to two very worthy institutions – The Arava Institute and Hazon – that support peace, partnership, and environmental sustainability. Joining me will be Beth El congregants J, J, L and M (we are heavy in the middle of the alphabet) and about 200 other riders from around the world who aren’t yet members of Beth El.

The first time I did the ride, back in 2007, we went south via the Judean Hills. That was a little scary, a lot of ups and serious downs on the first morning of riding when we didn’t have our full biking confidence. My knuckles are still bare. Since then, we stick to the western routes that hang close to the Gaza Strip and end in Ashkelon or BeerSheva on the first night before entering the Negev. Yesterday riders received an email indicating we might not take the usual route, where we literally stop a few yards from the Gaza border and see the Strip up close, since the Strip has been convulsing the last few months and bad things of various kinds are flying over the border all the time. Iran and the Palestinian Authority have interests in keeping the tensions high, and Hamas is pleased to acquiesce, but we are not staying home.

Israel and Israelis get a lot of bad press in this country, worse elsewhere. Israel is far from a perfect country. There aren’t many of those, but its flaws get oversized attention. I am not one of the rabbis who seem to focus on the flaws. For me, despite it all, Israel is the homeland and refuge for the Jewish people and it retains some special and enduring qualities. A few small examples:

The IDF where the Navy crew on the mission to intercept an Iranian weapons ship is singing Shabbat zemirot (special hymns) on Friday night as they steer toward to their mission. Or soldiers sitting on the ground during Tisha B’av services with their boots off as they remember the tragedies that befell our people. What other army does that?

Or, the delayed El Al flight that landed in Tel Aviv exactly one hour before Shabbat. Before landing, the crew moved the shomer Shabbat (Sabbath observant) passengers as close as possible to the exit. Upon the landing, the pilot asked everyone to let the religious people exit first, and there was a tzitzit bearing El Al ground person standing at the door telling people, “just go home quickly and leave your bags; we’ll get them to you.” On airlines I see, nobody lets anybody exit first anytime.

Shabbat candle lighting times in every newspaper.
Bus illuminated destination signs that also say “Chag Sameach.”
The IKEA kitchen display that features two sinks.

These are but a few of the little Jewish things that mark everyday life in Israel. Now I get to see them up close and feel fortunate to be able to do so.

Wishing you well and send me good vibrations for the hills. Shabbat Shalom.

Bill Rudolph

Mark Your Calendars

Do I have your permission to lighten it up a little? We can’t dwell in the current darkness all the time.

This Sunday is Clergy Appreciation Day. Seriously. The second Sunday of October each year. I’m not sure many are aware of that. It’s certainly is not as popular as Mother’s Day – the day on which the most long distance phone calls are made. Nor is it even as popular as Father’s Day – until cell phones, the day on which the most long distance collect calls were made! But Sunday really is Clergy Appreciation Day, and if you didn’t know about it, you should have! Just type in the words “Clergy Appreciation Day” on your Google machine and you’ll find more than 4 million entries. It is recognized as an official day in over 40 states. And yet, who even knows about it – much less celebrates it?

Anyway, the fact that Clergy Appreciation Day is so obscure in it and of itself says something about how important clergy are to their congregants. Even the way it started tells you something. It started in 1992 when a lay person, Jerry Frear, was brainstorming with church colleagues about how they might be of help to their minister, when he glanced at a calendar and noticed that it was almost Groundhog Day. He said, “I thought, if they have a day for groundhogs, there ought to be a day for the 375,000 clergy people in America.” Groundhogs . . . clergy . . . do you get the connection? Each should be seen once a year – at best!   But it’s nice to know that there are people out there who take this day seriously. A subsidiary of Hallmark cards now offers 120 Clergy Appreciation cards. 120 different cards. They are available right on the Internet, you needn’t leave the safety of your home.

We can kid all we want, but I can tell you that while I have loved being a rabbi, most clergy are not as happy as I am. Most feel unappreciated. The statistics are there. 70% of clergy feel that they have a lower self image now than when they entered their calling. 50% have considered leaving their position within the past 3 months. 70% say they have no one they consider a close friend. It’s not easy being a clergyman or woman. Even when people attempt to express their appreciation, it doesn’t always come out right. A colleague recalls the nice elderly woman who waited on the receiving line one Shabbat to tell him how much she loves his sermons and hopes that he will publish them in a book. He started to explain to her that he is a bit reluctant to do that – he has always felt that sermons sound better than they read – but no matter what he said, she kept insisting. So finally, just to keep the line going, he said to her, “Well, maybe I’ll publish them posthumously.” And with a gleam in her eye she said, “Oh great, I hope it’s real soon!” And that, he says, is from someone who likes him!

Then there are the other kinds; the kind for whom the rabbi never gets it right. Like the woman I can’t forget, who I saw during the High Holidays some years back and I said “Hello, how are you?” And she angrily replied, “Now you ask? I was in the hospital for a week last year. Not once did you come to visit me.” I apologized. I explained to her that I run to the hospitals constantly but I just didn’t know that she was there, and that she or a member of her family should have told me. To which she replies, “You should have known!” So innocently, I asked her, “How did your doctor find out that you were there?” End of conversation. “You should have known!” Rabbis are expected to know everything and be everything. And that’s not easy to do.

So, you can do a mitzvah and reach out to clergy you know and thank them. Not me, I am retired. But it’s not a bad thing to do in these challenging times where “Make America Kind Again” is my new mantra. Best to you for a Shabbat Shalom. Bill Rudolph

To Serve or Not to Serve

Shalom. One more comment about the issue of the day, the ugly hearings about the Supreme Court nomination, more big picture.

When a VA restaurant refused to serve Sarah Huckabee Sanders, I was the only one in my family who thought Sanders deserved that treatment. Since then, I am coming around to the other side. A rabbi sermon and Post op ed pretty much completed the process.

The Rabbi, whom I often quote, Mitch Wohlberg of Baltimore’s Orthodox Beth Tefilo, wrote this, talking about Charles Krauthammer z”l:  “He seemed incapable of personal abuse, animosity or rhetorical demonization. That is not the way it is in today’s America!  Our politics have become very personal.  We think of those on the other side as not simply those we disagree with, but as our enemies and a threat to the survival of our country.  In such an atmosphere, the President’s Press Secretary, Sara Huckabee Sanders and her family, are asked to leave a restaurant.  What a horrible thing to do to someone!  Where does that lead?”

And this week there was a Post op ed piece by conservative pundit Hugh Hewitt (Oct 2):
“When pundits talk of a ‘cold civil war’ in the country, they mark themselves as ignorant of the real thing. Far from real war, the civil tension in the country isn’t even close to 1960s levels of violence, much less the sort of actual war that once convulsed the country in the 1860s. Screaming demonstrators at hearings jar. But they aren’t the Weathermen terrorizing the 1960s, not the Oklahoma City bombing, not the Fort Hood massacre. Yet.

But some (Hewitt continues) seem to welcome a slide in that direction. ‘Tell me again why we shouldn’t confront Republicans where they eat, where they sleep, and where they work until they stop being complicit in the destruction of our democracy,’ tweeted Ian Millhiser, justice editor at ThinkProgress.

‘Because it is both wrong & supremely dangerous,’ replied Georgetown Law professor Randy Barnett. ‘When one side denies the legitimacy of good faith disagreement over policy — as well as over constitutional principle — the other side will eventually reciprocate. Neither a constitutional republic nor a democracy can survive that.’

Princeton’s much-admired political theorist (continues Hewitt) Robert P. George said of the exchange: “Randy Barnett drops a major truth bomb in response to an especially foolish and irresponsible tweet. We’re already in the orange zone of bitterness and hatred of citizens toward fellow citizens. We’re about to enter the red zone. This is how faction destroys democratic republics.”

One more thing to worry about, and I do. Can this country survive what we are seeing now, such polarization? Maybe, maybe not. On this, our job is to try to move into the gap and talk to people who aren’t just like us, not judging them in advance and genuinely ready to listen to them. And we can pray for better days. Shabbat is a good opportunity for that. Shabbat Shalom.           Bill Rudolph

The Nomination Process

This has been quite a week on the Hill, not to mention the rainiest Sukkot anyone can remember which puts many of us in a doubly depressed state of mind. Let me share some  contemporary (as in this week) rabbinic thoughts about the Supreme Court nomination process.

Rabbi Hara Person is the chief strategy officer for the Reform movement’s Central Conference of American Rabbis. She talks about the Jewish emphasis on justice from the earliest times (see Deuteronomy 16:20: “Justice, justice, shall you pursue.”) And she goes on: “Commenting on this verse, the most famous biblical commentator Rashi proposes that it is the appointment of honest judges that allows society to thrive. Ibn Ezra, the next most famous biblical commentator, goes even further, suggesting that the duplicated word means that each side in a suit must pursue justice, whether each party will benefit or not, implying that the pursuit of justice is a higher value than partisanship.
In contrast (Person continues), the Kavanaugh hearings are a deeply flawed process, driven by partisanship and designed to obfuscate rather than illuminate the truth. The minimal amount of documentation on Kavanaugh that has been provided is problematic enough. Added to that the accusations of sexual assault that have arisen that are not being properly investigated, and the rush to bring the hearings to a rapid close, all seem intended to circumvent the path of true justice. That this is being done in order to name someone as a judge to the highest court of the land is a perversion of justice that is destined to bring about chaos and mistrust of the legal system, the opposite of a healthy and thriving society that Judaism posits as an ideal.”

Rabbi Aviva Richman is a faculty member at Hadar. She writes: “The Bible makes a distinction between sex crimes in a city and a field. The rabbis interpret the ‘city’ not as a matter of population density but culture.  A city is a place where people care about sexual assault and respond. In this context, the rabbis focus on the responsibility of the community and leadership to respond to and ideally prevent sexual violence.  Under this rubric, one medieval Talmud scholar characterizes the entire Persian empire under king Ahashverosh (Ahasuerus) as a field. Since the supreme leader of the land was a womanizer, acting like he was sexually entitled to any woman he wanted, no one in his kingdom took sexual violence seriously.
When our national leaders dismiss accounts of sexual assault because ‘nothing happened,’ or refuse to put in place and follow clear protocols to respond to these accounts, they are setting a tone that has ripple effects well beyond the bench of nine justices.
This is a moment where we have to ask ourselves, do we live in a city or a field? We must hold our leadership accountable to take sexual assault seriously. Otherwise, the most robust system of courts and justice is really just an empty field.”

Rabbi Avi Weinstein is the head of Jewish studies at the Hyman Brand Hebrew Academy, a community day school in Overland Park, Kansas. He writes about how Jewish texts address the concept of truth.
“The classic rabbinic assumption is not that ‘we can’t handle the truth;’  it’s just that we can’t get to it. The dialectic method so familiar to traditional learners is meant to mitigate personal biases in order to approximate arriving at the ‘truth.’ We aspire to know the truth. Ultimately, realizing it is always elusive. When the esteemed senators arrive with publicly announced foregone conclusions regarding the candidate, this does not augur well for this, the most lofty of aspirations. A judge in Jewish tradition had to be wary of his own biases as well as the limitations of clever argument.
The charges levied against the judge would most certainly be disqualifying, but would the suspicion alone be enough for him to be dismissed? How much smoke does there have to be before we assume that there is a fire? On this, there could be a variety of opinions, but all would agree that acumen alone would not be sufficient for a Jewish judge to be acceptable. It comes down to how one evaluates suspicion without hard evidence, and that brings us back to our biases, which inevitably cloud our aspiration to learn what is true.

Ponder all this, discuss it in your sukkah or dining room, and stay engaged. Shabbat Shalom and Moadim l’simchah. Bill Rudolph