Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Top Ten Reasons to…

Here are the Top Ten Reasons to come to the “Interfaith Action Against Gun Violence” this Sunday at 2:00 p.m. at Temple Sinai.

1.    Express your grief and solidarity with the victims of the tragedy at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT …

2.    … and with the victims in the Denver area movie theater, the Sikh Temple in Wisconsin, Congressman Giffords and those in Tucson, AZ, the Virginia Tech massacre – and so many others that have been forgotten – 62 mass murders by gunfire since 1982.

3.    Express your outrage at the scourge of gun violence in this country. 30,000 people die each year from gunfireincluding an average of 8 children a day.  In 2010, there were over 19,000 suicide victims, 11,000 homicide victims and 600 accidents – not to mention 200,000 non-fatal injuries in that one year alone….

4.    …and you know that this is a unique moment in our history when real change is possible.  Whether you are in favor of banning the sale of automatic weapons, banning high-capacity magazines, requiring background checks for all gun sales (40% of guns are currently sold without a background check) to prevent criminals and terrorists from obtaining dangerous weapons - you know that this is a moment when your voice really matters.

5.    You believe, as many studies show, that the extent of gun violence is impacted by the pervasive violence we see in the media. Violent video games and increasingly violent television programming has an impact, especially on children and teens.  You know that while gun/ammunition control is critical to reducing gun violence, it is not a sufficient response to the plague that we face…

6.    …and we must educate our congregation and community about the dangers from violence in the media as well as from guns themselves.

7.    You believe that stopping gun violence is a Jewish cause, an act of “Tikkun Olam” (Repairing the World) and “Pikuach Nefesh,” (Saving Lives), the highest of Jewish values…

8.    …and you recognize that it is a value we share with people of other faiths and that coming together with people of other faiths makes us stronger.

9.    You love music and Cantor Nitza and Temple member and singer, Jon Pasternak, will lead us in song, as well as John Hancock from Church of the Atonement and….

10.  You want to hear from important leaders and NJ Senate Majority Leader, Loretta Weinberg, who is leading the charge on this issue in Trenton, will speak.
Last but not least, you love Temple Sinai, and want to support the work of our Shalom Task Force, which is working to make our congregation one of the leaders in making this community and our world a safer place for all.

Hope to see you Sunday,
Rabbi Jordan Millstein

Friday, January 11, 2013


Dear Friends,

When I was in college I studied a lot of modern political philosophy and social theory, reading and writing papers about the theories of Immanuel Kant, Adam Smith, Alexis de Tocqueville, John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx, Max Weber and many others in the “DWM” (Dead White Male) pantheon.  I can’t say that I enjoyed studying all of these.  But, there was something about Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, one of the greats in that pantheon, that made me downright queasy.   Part of it, I’m sure, was that the translation from the German of any philosophical work typically makes difficult reading into something virtually impenetrable.  (Where is the verb?!)  Moreover, despite numerous lectures and discussions I never fully understood the infamous “Hegelian Dialectic.”  A few minutes of reading or listening to a lecture on it made my eyes roll back in my head.  And then there was the fact that that embedded in all of his German philosophic idealism was a pervasive and pernicious anti-Semitism.  Hegel had a profound influence on many later philosophers and writers who typically embraced his anti-Semitism as well.  Put briefly, I am not a fan.

Now, former Senator Chuck Hagel is not Georg W. F. Hegel.  As far as I know they are not related at all beyond the sound of their last names.  And Senator Hagel never said anything that approaches philosopher Hegel’s anti-Semitism (who said, for instance, that Germany cannot assimilate the Jews because the Jews live an “animal existence that can only be secured at someone else’s expense”).  Senator Hagel merely told Aaron David Miller, a former State Department Middle East negotiator, in 2006 when he didn’t sign a letter urging the European Union to designate Hezbollah as a terrorist organization, “the Jewish lobby intimidates a lot of people up here.”  I’m sorry, Nicholas Kristoff, even if it may be reasonable to disagree with policies of the Israeli government it is not OK to use the term, “Jewish lobby,” when doing so. 

I understand that, despite this, AIPAC is not opposing the nomination of Senator Hagel as Secretary of Defense.  I guess that puts me to the right of AIPAC on this issue which may make some people chuckle.  But, there it is.  One of the biggest decisions that the Obama Administration will make in its second term is whether or not to bomb Iran.  It simply is not very reassuring to think that one of the people who will be making that decision might, possibly, maybe, be a little, teeny bit anti-Semitic.  The “Jewish lobby,” after all, is apt to be quite vocal about attacking Iran if it is apparent that Iran has the bomb.  Do we want someone as Secretary of Defense who might find the lobbying of said Jewish lobby offensive, or even off-putting?  It makes me feel, well, a bit queasy.

On that note, I wish you a happy, healthy and non-anxious Shabbat.

Shabbat Shalom,

Monday, January 7, 2013

Worship at the Western Wall: Learn & Act

Dear Friends,

I hope you saw my rabbi’s message yesterday about the B’nei Mitzvah ceremony we held at the Western Wall during our Israel trip and the issue of worship at the Wall.  Today I received the following from Anat Hoffman, the Executive Director of the Israel Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism (IRAC) and the Chairperson of Women of the Wall (WOW) .  There is a petition you can sign (if you agree with it and want to engage in such advocacy). 

If you want to send a letter to Natan Sharansky, Chairman of the Jewish Agency for Israel, who has been given authority to make decisions regarding this issue, you might want to use this link to a place on the IRAC site. 

Here is the link to the New York Times piece on this topic from a couple of weeks ago:

A couple of other pieces you might want to read, if you are interested in this issue:   

Unity is Not Uniformity:  An Open Letter to Natan Sharansky” by Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson, the Dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at the American Jewish University in LA:

And “Rethinking Jewish Life:  For the Sake of Heaven?” by Rabbi Rachel Sabath Beit Halachmi of the Shalom Hartman Institute and Hebrew Union College – Jewish Institute of Religion in Jerusalem:

Kol Tuv – All the best,

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Shalom, Mr. Sharansky!

Dear Friends,

“Shalom, Mr. Sharansky!” I shouted. “Anachnu Reformim me’Artzot HaBrit, MiTenafly, New Jersey,” (Translation: We are Reform Jews from the United States, from Tenafly, NJ.) “We are celebrating the B’nei Mitzvah of several of our students.”

“Mazal Tov!” came the reply from the short man standing on the platform overlooking us and several other groups gathered to pray and celebrate at the Robinson’s Arch area of the Jerusalem Archaeological Park.

It was one of the more remarkable moments of an Israel trip filled with remarkable moments: Natan Sharansky, formerly known as Anatoly Sharansky, the famous Soviet Jewish refusenik, and now head of the Jewish Agency for Israel was watching our B’nei Mitzvah celebration.

Perhaps some explanation is in order here: This past Monday morning the participants in our Temple Sinai Israel trip gathered together to celebrate the B’nei Mitzvah of several students in our group (including my own daughter, Sarah). The site we chose is typically referred to as, “Robinson’s Arch,” but is actually the southern part of the Western Wall of the Temple in Jerusalem, built by King Herod. The difference between the part of this wall called, “The Kotel” (“The Wailing Wall” or “The Western Wall” in English) and the site where we met is that the former was the part of this wall that had remained visible throughout the ages and became a sacred site to Jewish pilgrims and visitors. The latter was exposed through an archaeological dig. Moreover, and most critical to our visit, the Robinson’s Arch site, unlike the Kotel/Western Wall, is not under the jurisdiction of the Western Wall Heritage Council, which is completely controlled by the Ultra-Orthodox. It is an archaeological park open to all, and allows visitors to gather in prayer (by appointment, at certain set times) without conforming to Ultra-Orthodox customs and restrictions.

As it happens, those restrictions have become the source of a major, international Jewish controversy, which recently reached the front page of the New York Times. The group, “Women of the Wall,” has been fighting since 1988, in their words, for “the social and legal recognition of our right, as women, to wear prayer shawls, pray, and read from the Torah collectively and out loud at the Western Wall.” While not made up of Reform Jews per se – only a minority of the members identify with our Movement – its mission is very much in sync with our Movement and its leader, Anat Hoffman, happens to be the Executive Director of the Israel Religious Action Center of the Israel Movement for Progressive Judaism. In October Anat Hoffman was arrested by the Western Wall police for attempting to pray there with 250 women attending the centennial convention of Hadassah. (Officially she was accused of disturbing the peace for singing out loud at the Western Wall. The law says, "No religious ceremony shall be in held in the women's section of the Western Wall.") In December my colleague and friend from Franklin Lakes, Rabbi Elyse Frishman, was detained for wearing a tallit at the wall.

While in Israel our group celebrated Havdalah with another friend, Rabbi Rachel Shabbat Beit Halachmi, a Reform rabbi, Hebrew Union College professor and Shalom Hartman Institute fellow. She spoke with us about why this issue has taken on so much significance, pointing out that it touches on three major, hot-button issues in Israel: the status of women in Judaism, the status of non-Orthodox Judaism in Israel and the rights/standing of diaspora Jews in Israel. Consequently such a seemingly small action as a few women gathering at the Kotel each month on Rosh Chodesh (the first day of the new month, a traditional women’s holiday) to pray together has taken on such symbolic significance and become an international incident.

In any event, I hope in some small way we helped Mr. Sharansky see how beautiful Reform worship can be and how committed we non-Orthodox Jews are to celebrating our commitment to Judaism at our most significant, ancient holy site. We’ll see what he decides. In the meantime, if you want to let Natan Sharansky know how you feel you can send a letter to:

Mr. Natan Sharansky
The Jewish Agency For Israel
48 King George St.
P.O.B 92
Jerusalem 91000

Hope you all have a wonderful 2013.

Rabbi Jordan Millstein

p.s. If you want to learn more about all of our adventures in Israel just go to the Temple Sinai of Bergen County facebook page, where numerous pictures and anecdotes are posted.