Friday, October 29, 2010

Good gigs

As a rabbi, I get to do a bunch of different “stuff”. Here are some of my favorite recent gigs:

  • Serving on OSRUI faculty
  • Teaching “text and interpretation in Jewish tradition” at St. Mary’s
  • Singing and playing music with our community seniors
  • Storytelling (for any audienceJ)
  • The Jazz of Jewish Worship at Notre Dame

Just a few…these activities add greater dimension to my life. What are YOUR favorite extra special opportunities? What do you love to do?

Friday, October 22, 2010

Bridges of understanding

Speaking at churches, teaching at Catholic universities, conducting interfaith seminars, represeting progressive ecumenical causes - these are among the many fulfillfing and significant activities that benefit from my attention, personally and professionally, every day. I've come to know that my effort to build understanding across religious and cultural lines is one of the most important pieces of my life currently. To make a positive difference in this world, which as always needs our attention, is a truly inspiring (and often awesome) prospect for any of us.
What have been your most profound experiences of interfaith dialogue? How have you worked to bridge the sacred differences among people? I'd love to know...

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

TALMUD TORAH K’NEGED KULAM – “The study of Torah encompasses them all”


Throughout Jewish history, our tradition has held that learning (i.e. “study of Torah”) is the greatest virtue – as it leads to the performance of mitzvot (sacred obligation) and therefore includes the entire range of values that Judaism promotes. This is why we celebrate learning throughout the life-cycle with such great joy.

We have an upcoming opportunity in our community to participate with the Jewish people world-wide in such an occasion. Spearheaded by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz – one of the most prolific and influential Jewish text scholars of our day – Jews the world over have been invited to partake in a Global Day of Jewish Learning, which will be held on Sunday, November 7th. Rabbi Steinsaltz developed this idea to mark a significant accomplishment – the completion of his translation of the Talmud (the multi-volume work of the ancient rabbis, covering several generations of commentary and discourse, which has been one of the major foundations of Jewish thought and learning for centuries).

Our observance here in South Bend is being sponsored by the Jewish Federation along with the congregations. Our Global Day of Jewish Learning event will be held at Federation beginning at 6:30 p.m. Rabbi Friedland of Sinai Synagogue, Rabbi Nebel of the Midwest Torah Center, and I will be teaching (in a “round-robin” style, as we did for a communal night of learning with the rabbis last year) various aspects of Talmud torah – the study of Talmud text, its customary style of teaching, and how the Talmud fits in the context of Jewish learning. My piece of the program will address the history and development of this vital Jewish resource. I hope you will attend this amazing opportunity to share with our fellow Jews around the world in our love for learning.

Commenting on the upcoming Global Day of Jewish Learning, my colleague and teacher Rabbi Jan Katzew (Director of Life Long Learning for the URJ) writes very sweetly about how awe-inspiring it can be to recognize the vastness of Jewish sacred text. “I was humbled and intimidated,” he admits. And then refers to a lesson he learned from our teacher, Dr. Ben Zion Wacholder (another of the great Talmud teachers of our generation; fortunately for Reform rabbis, he has taught us at HUC-JIR, our seminary, for the past five decades). The teacher related the following story:

A “Talmid Chacham”, a Jewish scholar, once claimed to have gone through more than a hundred “pages” of Talmud and felt proud of the accomplishment until he was asked, “How many pages of Talmud have gone through you?”

For some of us, the Talmud may seem foreign and “traditional” Jewish learning might be unfamiliar. Whether you are well-versed in Jewish texts or a complete novice, our Day of Global Jewish Learning is an opportunity for all of us, no matter what our background, to share in the real joy, uplift and meaningfulness of our heritage. Join me, and together let’s find ways, as taught above, for Talmud Torah to go through us.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Life's a journey


This week’s reading from the Torah includes the origins of the Abrahamic covenant, and the first notion of “promised land” in the Bible: The Lord said to Abram, “Go forth from your native land and from your father’s house to the land that I will show you (emphasis added). I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you shall be a blessing” (Gen. 12:1-2).

I find it interesting that the goal (that is, the land God will show Abram) is not specified at the outset. Our patriarch agrees to follow God without an explicit goal or endpoint being announced. The covenant begins with open-ended trust. Only subsequently is Canaan mentioned. Though Abram doesn’t initially know his destination, he is willing to begin his journey toward blessing.

WOW! The “promised land” can only be determined in partnership between humanity and the Divine. Humanity has a stake in setting the agenda, and choosing our best destiny. The same goes for each of us as well. Who’s to say where we are “supposed” to be headed? For our lives to be fulfilling, we too must be willing to undertake the journey toward blessing – and figure out how to tweak, edit, and even change course along the way. To me, the real “promised land” is the process itself by which we strive for meaning.

So take time to reflect: where are you going on your life’s path? What risks are you taking to make life meaningful? To make it pleasurable? The old expression rings true: life’s a journey – enjoy the ride!

Friday, October 8, 2010

Who are the people in YOUR neighborhood


Hearing this music, singing these words, I am taken back to watching Sesame Street as a little kid (and maybe as well while riding in the car):

Oh, who are the people in your neighborhood,
In your neighborhood, in your neighborhood.
Say who are the people in your neighborhood--
The people that you meet each day?

Oh, the postman always brings the mail
Through rain or snow or sleet or hail.
I'll work, and work the whole day through
To get your letters safe to you.

TCause a postman is a person in your neighborhood,
In your neighborhood, he's in your neighborhood.
A postman is a person in your neighborhood--
A person that you meet each day.

Oh, a fireman is brave it's said.
His engine is a shiny red.
If there's a fire anywhere about.
Well, I'll be sure to put it out!

Cause a fireman is a person in your neighborhood,
In your neighborhood, he's in your neighborhood.
And a postman is a person in your neighborhood--
Well they're the people that you meet
When you're walking down the street
They're the people that you meet each day!

When “the world was younger” it was sufficient (and useful) to teach children about the postman, fireman, baker – or teacher, rabbi and doctor – the people who made up our surroundings, our “neighborhood,” each day.

And today, the emphasis on connecting with the people in our neigbhorhood has never been more pronounced. Yet, the ‘hood has expanded, for every one of us. Not merely the corner drug store, the local school, and the nearby playground make up our neighborhood. And, it’s not just the people from the houses around the block. Of course, our real-time interaction with people extends through digital media so that we are becoming one global community.

My neighborhood now both spans geographic distance (love being only a click away from people far and near) as well as bridges the gaps in time (ok, how cool is it to reconnect with old friends and people from long ago?).

So let’s sing again. But first, who are the people in your “digital neighborhood?” As we think about this, it gives greater meaning to the idea “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Potent words way back when – perhaps even more so now.

Howdy neighbor!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

wait 'til next year (again)...

Baseball's post-season begins today - and of course my beloved Red Sox are already home on winter vacation (can't wait for spring training :). Yet, with the excitement of the playoffs (at least as forwarded by the various sports commentators in their usual pre-game fashion), it's still a great time to be a baseball fan. OK - I'm not truly concerned with the outcome of the LDS, LCS or World Series (well, I can be counted on to root AGAINST the evil Yankees); I am, however, looking forward to watching the games with Deb and the kids, making some fun baseball-related meals, and enjoying the remainder of the season - and holding on to that common boyhood dream of driving in the winning run in the 7th game of the World Series.
So - what are YOUR favorite playoff memories? And who do you think will win this year? C'mon everybody - play ball!