Friday, June 28, 2013

Mazal Tov!

Dear Friends,

It was on a summer day almost exactly 18 years ago, a day even hotter than this one, that I stood outside in the courtyard of the French brasserie, Marche’ in the West Loop area of Chicago, and said to Brad and Yoni, “By choosing to stand here under this chupah – symbol of the Jewish home – you are placing your relationship under the canopy of the Covenant between God and Israel. By choosing to exchange rings – symbolizing your link to one another – you are linking your lives to the hundreds of generations who have stood here and exchanged rings before you. And though your sexuality may be different than theirs, the essence of your relationship is not. You are two human beings; two people created by God, blessed by God’s gift of the spirit we call love. And through that love you have found fulfillment deep enough and commitment strong enough to make that relationship the most special, the most important, the most central element of your lives. In Judaism, we call that kind of relationship, “kadosh,” “holy.” We call this marriage ceremony, “kiddushin,” the rite which establishes this bond as holy.”

Brad and Yoni exchanged rings, using the same vow that is used in heterosexual Jewish weddings, and were religiously married in one of the most Jewish weddings at which I have ever officiated. By that I mean that the Brad and Yoni were very committed, liberal Jews; that they had a Klezmer band and danced the horah longer than at most weddings I have attended; but, most of all, because of the values that were expressed through the celebration of this wedding. Those values include some of the most fundamental of our Jewish tradition:
  • Every human being is made in the image of God and the potential for a fully committed, holy relationship (“kiddushin”) has been implanted by God in all of us.
  • As a people who experienced what it was like to be “strangers in the Land of Egypt,” and were “outsiders” in the societies in which we lived throughout much of our history, we are commanded to make sure that those who have been excluded or treated as “other” are treated as equals in the societies in which we live today. We cannot say that those who are gay are truly equal if we do not recognize their relationships as equal to those of heterosexual couples, as one’s sexuality is expressed through one’s relationships.
Of course, Brad and Yoni’s marriage was not recognized by the State of Illinois at that time, nor is it today, as Illinois does not recognize marriage equality. But, the Supreme Court this week did take a big step in the right direction. By striking down Article Three of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) in Windsor v. United States,the Court has enabled legally married same-sex couples to receive the same federal benefits, rights and responsibilities as married heterosexual couples. And its ruling in Hollingsworth v. Perry effectively extends marriage equality rights to tens of millions of more Americans, those who reside in the State of California.

What the Supreme Court did not do was establish marriage equality – the right of same sex couples to wed – as a right for all Americans. That has been left to each state to determine. We can expect that the battle over the freedom to marry will intensify in New Jersey. If you want to get involved in support of marriage equality in our state I suggest going to and getting on their email list. There is much that we can do.

I am proud that our Movement, through the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, filed joined and supported amicus briefs in both the Perry and Windsor cases. The Union for Reform Judaism and the Religious Action Center have long been outspoken advocates for civil rights. (In fact, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, that was struck down by the Supreme Court this week in Shelby County, Ala. V. Holder was crafted by civil rights leaders in the Religious Action Center building. Needless to say, the Religious Action Center and Reform Jewish leaders across the country decried this terrible Court decision.) View the joint statement of Reform Jewish leaders here.

May Brad and Yoni’s marriage soon be recognized in the state of Illinois and marriage equality be accepted throughout our entire union.

Shabbat Shalom,

Friday, June 21, 2013

Bill Kaplen - His Memory Will Be for a Blessing

Dear Friends,

This week we lost one of the true “g’dolei ha’dor,” great men of our generation in our community, Bill Kaplen. I feel privileged to have had the opportunity to get to know Bill late in his life. He was a very wise as well as a very generous man. I learned much from my conversations with him. Despite my sadness it was an honor to be able to officiate at his funeral service this past Wednesday in the sanctuary at Temple Sinai, the renovation of which he helped fund, and which was dedicated by the Kaplen family.

My heart goes out to Bill’s wife, Maggie, who, together with Bill, changed the face of the Jewish and wider community of our area. She is a great lady in her own right and I am grateful to have her as a friend and active member of our congregation. My condolences as well to Bill’s sons, Larry and Lex, to Larry’s wife, Veronica, and son, Ben; to Bill’s step-sons, Peter and James; their wives, Koy and Kenia; and James’ children, Nicolas and Isabelle.

There is a wonderful tribute to Bill Kaplen in today’s issue of the Jewish Standard.

Below please find an excerpt from my eulogy delivered at this past Wednesday’s funeral.

May you have a peaceful and happy summer solstice and a Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Jordan Millstein

Excerpt from Eulogy for Bill Kaplen

…Rabbi [Reuven] Kimmelman…mentioned in his note a key tenet of Bill’s own philosophy of life, “Save your money and give it away.” This goes to one of Bill’s greatest loves, one which he fully embraced and became the focus of the last 15 years of his life. The Kaplen Foundation was founded back in 1969, but it was only after Bill sold his business in 1999 that he became fully engaged in the business of giving. As the President of the Kaplen Foundation he worked at it all the time, continuing to go into the office regularly until last year.

And it was in this work, I think, that Bill really found his calling. From his spiritual home here at Temple Sinai, to the Jewish Home at Rockleigh, to all his work with and generosity to the Kaplen JCC on the Palisades, to the Jewish Home Assisted Living/Kaplen Family Senior Residence – the building of which he personally supervised – Bill Kaplen and his family changed the face of the Jewish community of our area. (And he had an impact on the Jewish community nationally as well through his strong support for the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee.) Bill cared deeply about the perpetuation of Judaism and the Jewish People.

In fact, he cared about all people and their well-being. The Kaplen Foundation has done a lot of work in the healthcare field, especially in our own community where supporting and expanding the work of Englewood Hospital and Medical Center was so important to him.

To be clear, Bill and his family did not do this alone. There were a number of other families, many of whom are represented here today - many who are Bill and Maggie’s personal friends - who were extremely generous and made a huge difference in our community as well. But, I don’t think I am going too far when I ask, “Without Bill’s leadership would all of this work have gotten done? Would our community be as vital as it is today?” You see, it’s not just that the Kaplen Foundation gave major gifts. It’s that Bill got on the phone and said to others, “join me!” And if you were ever on the other end of that phone call you know how hard it is to say “no” to Bill Kaplen. Bill put himself and his relationships on the line for this community and for that we owe him an enormous debt of gratitude.

And he really did love it. As Bill himself put it a few years ago as the Kaplen JCC began its renovation campaign, “Nothing I have done in my long life has brought me the kind of happiness that giving away my money has…[It is] a physical sensation — joy. Pure, sweet, unmistakable joy that something can’t exist without you. If you have the resources to give but don’t, no matter how young you are, you are denying yourself something wonderful.”

“At these moments,” he added, “when you see what you’ve been able to accomplish and you understand its full effect on the people it was intended to affect, you’re not really engaging in philanthropy anymore. You realize that you haven’t really given anything away. You’ve multiplied what you had a hundred times over and kept it for yourself.”

Friday, June 14, 2013

The NSA May Be Reading This

Dear Friends,

Actually, that’s probably not true. If the NSA was reading this it would be a bad thing, in my opinion, and most definitely a waste of the government’s time. You, on the other hand, are reading this. That, in my opinion, is a good thing and I hope that you will not find it a waste of time. In fact, I want to thank you for reading this and any of the other “rabbi’s messages” that I have sent which you have read. I appreciate your time and really enjoy the comments I receive in response, even (especially?) when you disagree with me.

As far as the NSA’s program itself is concerned, it doesn’t bother me. From what we’ve learned over the past couple of weeks from Edward Snowden’s leaking of information to The Guardian, the NSA (National Security Agency) is mining data from the internet and phone companies to identify suspicious patterns in phone numbers called and addresses to which emails are written. They are not, as the subject line of this email misleadingly implies, reading emails, except in cases where their computers identify suspicious patterns and their intelligence officers get a judge to issue a warrant for them to examine the content of an email or tap a phone number.

I agree with Tom Friedman who wrote in his column earlier this week, “I worry about potential government abuse of privacy from a program designed to prevent another 9/11 — abuse that, so far, does not appear to have happened. But I worry even more about another 9/11.” In Judaism, the saving of lives is our highest value. That is not to say that we should turn our country into a police state in order save lives. But, it does mean that we need to make certain trade-offs. If government computers have my emails and phone calls logged by recipient number and address in some data base so their algorithms can identify suspicious patterns – even if they end up reading some of them because some of you are suspicious characters (LOL) – that’s fine by me. Hey, maybe they’ll decide to read all of my blog postings; I could use some more readers!

All kidding aside, I do think Tom Friedman is right. Any successful attack on our country would not only be a disaster for the victims and their families, it could lead to far worse consequences. It could lead us into another war, costing thousands of lives and trillions of dollars.

I also believe that should our government be able to capture Mr. Snowden he should be tried for treason. His actions have undermined the effectiveness of a program that probably has saved many lives and could yet, if it is not totally compromised, save countless more.

Should we be concerned about our privacy? No doubt. We allow companies and organizations (not Temple Sinai!) to monitor some of our internet use in order to sell us everything and anything. We have security cameras on street corners, inside and outside of stores and businesses. We need to be aware of modern technology and how it impacts our ability to maintain our privacy.

But, truth be told, this is not entirely new. Modern life is becoming…a lot like life in the old days when we lived in small towns and villages right on top of one another. Back then you knew that someone could easily overhear almost anything that you said if you didn’t make a serious effort to keep it private. And our ancestors knew as well that what was said in one place could be heard pretty quickly in another part of the world. “The gossiper stands in Syria and kills in Rome.” (Palestinian Talmud Peah 1:10) In this new/old world we have to practice what our tradition calls, “shmirat ha’lashon,” “guarding the tongue.” The only difference is that for us our tongues extend to our keyboards, iPhones and Ipads.

In sum, Big Brother is not really watching you; he is just logging your emails and phone calls. It’s a trade-off that we should accept in order to have a safer and more peaceful world.

My you have a safe and peaceful Shabbat.