A Prayer Commemorating 100 Years Since the Armenian Genocide

Armenian Genocide serviceO God, Our hearts cry out, “How?!” “Why?!” How did this genocide happen?! Why did You let it happen?! One and a half million innocent Armenians tortured and slaughtered in the most horrible ways is an abomination. This genocide –and I use that word with purposeful intent—is an insult to Your desire that we create a just, caring, peaceful and compassionate society on earth! Yes, we cry out in anguish, but we know the answer to our question! This genocide did not happen because You let it happen. It happened because—just like Cain when he killed Abel—we—the creatures you created to be in charge of and responsible for this earth—spurned your desires for us. You blessed us, Eternal One, with free will, and we so horribly abused that power! And so Eternal One, we confess our complicity in the crime of standing idly by the blood of our neighbors, and we come here today to bear witness to our failure to act as You wished we would act. We know, O God, the proper question is not, “Where were You?” The proper question is, “Where were we?” It is a question that haunts us today a hundred years after the Armenian genocide known as the Meds Yeghern, and it will haunt us 100, 200 years from today, and as long as humanity endures. We cannot undo the past—as much as we wish we could—but we can bear witness to it! We cannot undo the past, but we can learn from it! We cannot undo the past, but we can create a better future for our children, our grandchildren and the generations to follow! We cannot undo the past, but let each of us stand accountable if we fail to do our part in the future — by using the minds, hearts and talents with which you have blessed us, O God, to work to create the world of which the prophets Isaiah and Micah dreamed when they said: “They shall not hurt or destroy in all my holy mountain for the earth shall be filled with the knowledge of the Eternal One as the seabed is covered by water (Isaiah 11:9)”. “And all shall sit under their vines and under their fig trees with none to make them afraid! (Micah 4:4)” Amen

Why Is Israel So Special?

As Israel celebrates its 67th year of independence, my mind replays a scene that could easily happened again today. It was November 1975. The United Nations had just passed a horrific resolution condemning Zionism—the very idea that there should be a Jewish State—as racism. Shocked, I knocked on the doors of one Christian pastor in our city after another asking for support.

Some were sympathetic, but I shall never forget one pastor’s response: “Steve, you’ve taught me a lot about Judaism, and I consider you a friend. But I have neither interest in nor sympathy for Zionism.”

Today, on the land that made up the Turkish Ottoman Empire until the end of World War I, twenty-two Arab peoples have realized their hopes for nationhood, sovereignty, and recognition from the world community. Jews also lived in the erstwhile Ottoman Empire. Why does the world begrudge one tiny sliver of land for Jewish national aspirations when twenty-two Islamic nations have realized the same dream?

Had there been an Israel, the would not have been a Holocaust

After the Holocaust, the world realized that had there been an Israel to which Jews could flee; Hitler never would have destroyed two-thirds of European Jewry. In other words had there been an Israel when Hitler came to power, there would not have been a Holocaust!

And so the United Nations voted to create two small states: one Arab and one Jewish. The tiny piece of land designated as the Jewish homeland was mostly desert, but no matter. The Jews of the world rejoiced that our two-thousand-year-old hope for nationhood was finally a reality.

But the Arab world had other plans and vowed to drive the new Jewish nation into the sea. Azzam Pasha, Secretary-General of the Arab League, boasted that the rivers would flow with Jewish blood. “This will be a war,” he exulted, “like the Mongolian massacres, like the crusades.”

It turned out he was wrong. The Jewish nation, against overwhelming odds, did manage to establish itself; but the dream to wipe her persists to this day. If ever there will be peace, the Arab world in general and the Palestinians in particular must renounce this dream.

We cannot deny, nor should we, that the creation of Israel caused loss and displacement for many Arabs. I hope that reality will always sober us. I hope Israel will make every reasonable effort to reach a peaceful accord, an accord that allows both the Jewish State of Israel and an Islamic/Christian Palestine to live side by side in mutual harmony.

When Palestinian spokespeople tell us that so many of their kinsmen lost their land when Israel came to be, they are correct. But they do not tell us that roughly the same number of Jews fled for their lives to Israel from political, economic, religious and physical persecution in Arab lands.

The difference, of course, and it is a crucial difference, is that Israel absorbed refugees from Yemen, Tunisia, Algeria, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, and Morocco and integrated them into Israeli society by providing them with language training, job skills, and housing. The Arab world, despite economic capabilities that dwarf those of all the Jews in the world, chose to maintain Palestinian refugees in squalid camps, which for sixty years have been breeding grounds for hatred of Israel and terrorism.

It is OK to be critical

I do not believe that supporting Israel means that we should relinquish the right to criticize policies of Israel’s that we think is wrong. In particular, I strongly criticize the actions of Prime Minister Netanyahu in the days leading up to the recent election.

But none of us should allow our criticism to provide aid and political ammunition for those Jews and non-Jews alike¾who seek to destroy the Jewish State.

We must never forget that if the Arab states renounce terror, lay down their arms, and acknowledge Israel’s right to exist, there will be peace. But if Israel lays down its arms or relaxes its vigilance, there will be no Israel. I count myself among those who would consider the loss of Israel a tragedy the world should spare no effort to prevent.

For my German Readers: Kurz-Kommentar: Tazria-Metzora (Levitikus 12-15):

“Stock und Stein können brechen mein Bein” – Worte können das auch!

In einer Passage aus Levitikus über Hautkrankheiten für heutiges Leben etwas Lehrreiches zu fingen, ist eine formidable Herausforderung. Aber unsere Weisen waren ihr gewachsen. Sie schauten sich das Hebräische Wort für Lepra, מצורע – metzora, an und lehrten, dass Lepra die angemessene Strafe ist für den Missbrauch der Macht des Wortes.

Die Weisen verstanden, dass unsere Fähigkeit der Rede eine beeindruckende Macht ist, die einerseits sehr viel Gutes tun, andererseits so sehr Schaden anrichten kann.

In ihrer Genialität interpretierten sie den geheimnisvollsten Abschnitt der Tora als eine Warnung vor einer der verbreitetsten und schädlichsten Sünden: Verleumdung und Klattsch. Sie entwürdigen, so lehren unsere Weisen, drei Personen: den, über den geredet wird, den, der es ausspricht, und den, der zuhört. Es ist eine Sünde, die die Rabbiner mit Mord vergleichen (B. Arakin 15b).

Eine beliebte Geschichte erzählt von einem kleinen Mädchen, deren Gerede sie alle ihre Freundinnen kostete. Ihre Mutter brachte sie zum Rabbi in der Hoffnung er könnte ihr helfen. “Nimm ein Kissen”, wies sie der Rabbiner an, “schneide es auf und verstreu die Federn.” Das Kind tat, was er sagte und kam zurück zum Rabbi, der ihr nun sagte: “Jetzt sammle alle Federn wieder ein und näh das Kissen wieder zu.”

“Aber Rabbi”, sagte das Kind, ” das ist unmöglich.”

“Natürlich ist es möglich”, sagt der, “aber sobald Worte über unsere Lippen gegangen sind, können sie niemals zurückgeholt werden. Darum pass auf, dass du deine bedeutende Macht der Worte nutzt zu helfen und ermutigen, nicht um Schlechtes zu reden und Menschen fertig zu machen.

Das gehört zu dem Wichtigsten, was das kleine Mädchen und wir jemals lernen können.

Translation: Pastor Ursula Sieg

Quick Comment: “Tazria-Metzora” (Leviticus 12-15)

Finding meaning for our lives today in the passages in Leviticus dealing with skin diseases is a formidable challenge, but our rabbinic Sages were up to the task.

Looking at the Hebrew word for leprosy, מצורע – metzora, the rabbis taught that the disease was the appropriate punishment for the mot zee ra — one who abuses the power of speech.

Our Sages understood that our ability to speak is an awesome power that can cause either much good or much harm.

In their genius they interpreted the most esoteric passages of the Torah as a warning against one of the most common and most pernicious of sins, slander and gossip!

The gossip, our Sages taught, diminishes three people, the one spoken about, the one saying it, and the one who listens.  It is a sin, which the rabbis compare to murder. (B. Arakin 15b)

A favorite story tells of a little girl whose gossiping cost her all her friends.  Her mother took her to see the rabbi to see if she could help. “Take a pillow,” the rabbi instructed, “cut it open and scatter its feathers.” The child did so and returned to the rabbi who told her, “Now pick up all the scattered feathers and sew them back into the pillow.”

“But rabbi,” the child answered “that’s impossible,”

“Of course it is,” the rabbi answered, “but once words leave our lips they can never be brought back.  So take care to use your precious power of speech to uplift and encourage, not to speak evil and tear others down.”

It is one of the most important lessons the little girl and all of us can ever learn.

Bennett Pearl

Congregation Beth Israel, the Jewish people and the world at large have lost a great man!

It spoke volumes to me about Bennett Pearl’s values that he and Libby celebrated their 50th anniversary by coming to Shabbat Eve services at his beloved temple. It was rare that he was not here, and his smile warmed the sanctuary.

Bennett often referred to himself as the only volunteer that I ever fired.

He was.

He worked so hard and so tirelessly on the Legacy Program for the temple.

He threw his heart and soul into the effort. Several years ago he ended up in the hospital. I asked his doctor whether Bennett’s full-throttle efforts on behalf of the Legacy program could jeopardize his health. When the doctor agreed that it could, I took Bennett off the case.

As it turned out, it was only a medical furlough, not a firing. Before too long Bennett was back on the job that was so important to the future of the synagogue he loved so much.

Bennett’s love was not just for the synagogue as an institution but for the values it represents and for its people.

His love for and kindness to Vickie and me was a love we both felt constantly. He knew that chocolate chip ice cream was one of my favorite foods, so one day while I was recovering from surgery, he made a special trip to Manchester to buy me home made chocolate chip ice cream that is legendary.

He took a special interest in my son Ben, and the two of them talked business for hours. When Ben returned to Connecticut from Arizona, Bennett was a huge help to him in sorting out his career priorities and goals.

But perhaps Bennett’s activity that I admire most is his devotion to the little girl he tutored as a volunteer every week at Rawson School, his own alma mater. Every step of progress she made filled his heart with joy.

The Talmud teaches, “One who saves a single life, saves the entire world (B Sanhedrin 37a).

”Bennett Pearl saved many lives during his earthly journey and brought joy to many others.

If there were more people like him, Jewish life would be better off, and the world would be a better place. His memory will always be a blessing to our family and to so many others.

For my German readers: Kurzkommentar: Wir wissen nie, wann eine Tragödie uns trifft. – Parashat Shemini Levitikus 9-11  

Nach einem Leben im Schatten seines jüngeren Bruders Mose, kam Aaron doch noch zu Ehren. Moses führte das Volk aus der Sklaverei. Mose empfing die Tora auf dem Berg Sinai. Aaron spielte immer nur die zweite Geige. Aber für acht großartige Tage konnte er das alles hinter sich lassen als er sich an der Zeremonie freute, die ihn zum Hohen Priester des Volkes machte.

Und dann verwandelte sich die Feier im Nu in Asche. Aarons Söhne Nadav und Abihu opferten “esh zarah”, “fremdes Feuer” (Levitikus 10,1) auf dem Altar des EwigEinen und plötzlich fraß sie das Feuer.


Die Midraschim und moderne Kommentatoren bieten verschiedene Erklärungen an:

  • Sie wünschten Mose und Aaron den Tod, damit sie die Leitung des Volkes übernehmen konnten (B. Sanhedrin 52a).
  • Sie beten Götzen an.
  • Sie waren pietä
  • Sie waren betrunken.
  • Sie ersuchten unerlaubt das Allerheiligste zu betreten.

 Aber die Erklärungen befriedigen nicht.

Wir werden nie erfahren, warum Nadav und Abihu starben. Aber es lässt sich aus der Erzählung etwas lernen, das Rabbi Jack Riemer in einer kurzen -Geschichte auf den Punkt bringt:

Ein weinender Mann kauert nach dem tragischen Tod seiner Frau an ihrem Grab. Nach einiger Zeit drängt ihn der Rabbi zum Auto zu kommen, das ihn nach Hause bringen soll. “Du verstehst es nicht, Rabbi”, weinte der Mann, “Ich habe sie geliebt.” “Ich weiß, du hast sie geliebt”, sagte der Rabbi. “Ich habe sie geliebt”, unterbricht ihm der Mann, “und beinahe hätte ich es ihr erzählt.”

Tragödien können uns plötzlich treffen.

In einem einzigen Moment kann sich unsere Freude in Leid verwandeln und unsere Träume zu Asche. Kein Geld und nicht Macht oder Ruhm schützen uns davor. Die Tragödie des Nadav und Abihu mahnen uns, jeden Moment der Freude und Liebe zu ergreifen und auszukosten, denn wir wissen nicht, was der nächste Tag bringt.

Translation: Pastor Ursula Sieg

Quick Comment: We Never Know When Tragedy Will Strike —Parashat Shemini Leviticus 9-11

After a lifetime in his younger brother Moses’ shadow, Aaron was finally having his moment! Moses led the people from slavery. Moses received Torah on Mt Sinai. Aaron was always “the second banana.”

But for eight glorious days all of that was behind him as he reveled in the ceremony establishing him as the high priest of the people.

And then in an instant the celebration turned to ashes.

Aaron’s sons Nadav and Abihu offered “esh zarah” “alien fire” (Leviticus 10:1) on the altar of the Eternal One and in an instant the fire consumed them.


Midrashic and modern commentators offer several explanations:

  • They wished Moses and Aaron dead so they could take over the leadership of the people (B. Sanhedrin 52a).
  • They worshipped idols.
  • They were irreverent.
  • They were drunk
  • They attempted—unauthorized–to enter the holy of holies.

But no explanation satisfies.

We will never know why Nadav and Abihu died but the account teaches us a vital lesson illustrated by this story told by Rabbi Jack Riemer!

A weeping man lingered at his wife’s gravesite after her tragic death. In time the rabbi urged him to return to the car waiting to take him home.

“You don’t understand, Rabbi,” the man weeped, “I loved her!”

“I know you loved her,” the rabbi answered…”

“I loved her,” the man interrupted, “and once, I almost told her.”

Tragedy can strike any one of us in an instant.

In a moment our joy can turn to sorrow and our dreams to ashes. No amount of money, power or fame protects us from that possibility.

The tragedy of Nadav and Abihu urges us to embrace and savor every moment of joy and love that life offers because none of us can know what tomorrow will bring.

Why the letter Kof?


In response to those reader who ask why I use the Hebrew letter ק (Kof) as the symbol for my blog.

Originally posted on Finding Ourselves In Biblical Narratives:

The Hebrew letter Kof stands as a symbol of my web page.  I chose it because it is the first letter of the Hebrew word “Kadosh” which means holy.

One of the most famous lines of the Torah teaches (Lev. 19:1) “You shall be holy for I the Lord your God am holy.”

“Holy” really means set apart or different from the ordinary.  Torah came into the world because the ordinary values of the ancient world were not good enough for our people. Our tradition calls on us to be different: to strive for an ever higher standard of justice, righteousness, kindness and compassion than those which prevailing societal norms uphold.

In terms of time we are taught to make a distinction between ordinary time — the time to do the work of living — and time that is Kadosh, holy.  In Kadosh time we step back and ponder why…

View original 220 more words

For my German Readers: Kurz-Kommentar: Tora-Lesung für den letzten Tag des Pessachfestes

Dieser Schabbat birgt ein Tora-Lesungs-Dilemma für Reformjuden. Es ist der achte Tag des Pessachfestes, aber die meisten Reformjuden feiern nur sieben Tage. Die offizielle Lösung progressiven Judentums – die ich willkürlich finde und unbefriedigend – trennt sich vom Rest der jüdischen Welt und teilt den Toraabschnitt Shemini (Levitikus 9-11) in zwei wöchentliche Abschnitte. Eine Hälfte wird an diesem Schabbat gelesen, die andere nächste Woche. Ich bevorzuge den Toraabschnitt des achten Tages des Pessachfestes wegen seiner herausragenden Lektion. Sie zu würdigen müssen wir auf einen krassen Widerspruch im Text achten.

In Deuteronomium 15,4 lesen wir ein kategorisches Statement das mit dem kategorischesten aller hebräischen Worte beginnt: “efes”, d.h. “null” oder “niemand/ keine”. “Es soll keine Bedürftigen bei euch geben.”Aber nur wenige Sätze weiter (Deuteronomium 15,11) heißt es: “Es wir immer Arme in eurem Land geben.”

Wenn jeder Gottes Geboten folgen würde und seine Hälfte aus dem Bund, den der EwigEine mit Abraham begann, erfüllen würde, gäbe es tatsächlich keine Bedürftigen. Dieser Bund ruft uns auf,

  • ein Segen zu sein (Genesis 12,2).
  • so gut wir können Gottes Weisungen zu verstehen und ihnen zu entsprechen (Genesis 17,1).
  • und unsere Nachkommen so gut wir können zu lehren, die Welt mit Tzedakah und Mishpat, mit “Rechtschaffenheit und Gerechtigkeit” zu füllen (Genesis 18,19).

Ja, die Tora lehrt, dass es keine Bedürftigen gäbe, wenn jeder so handeln würde. Aber es bleibt bei der bitteren Wahrheit, dass nicht jeder diese Lehren befolgt. Deshalb wird es immer Bedürftige unter uns geben.

Der Imperativ für uns, die wir die Tora ernst nehmen, ist also, dass wir das uns Mögliche tun, um die Armut zu lindern, die wir um uns herum sehen. Wir wagen es nicht, unsere Herzen hart zu machen oder unsre Hände zu verschließen angesichts der Armen, die nach uns rufen. So gut wir können müssen wir Verantwortung für sie übernehmen und tun, was wir können um zu helfen.

Natürlich bedeutet das für jeden Menschen etwas anderes. Die Tora sagt uns nicht was exakt wir zu tun haben. Sie zielt darauf unsere Einstellung zu beeinflussen. Jeder von uns muss selbst entscheiden, ob wir für die Verbesserung der Lebensbedingungen in der Welt Verantwortung übernehmen oder ob wir nur über unsere selbstbezogenen Bedürfnisse nachdenken. Die Antwort der Tora ist klar und das Ende des Festes, bei dem wir verkündet haben “Lass alle Hungernden kommen und essen!” (Haggada), ist der passende Moment uns an diese Weisung der Tora zu erinnern.

Translation: Pastor Ursula Sieg

Quick Comment: Torah Reading for the Last Day Of Passover

A Torah Reading Dilemma

This Shabbat presents a Torah reading dilemma for Reform Jews. It is the eighth day of Passover, but most Reform Jews observe only seven days. The movement’s solution– which I find arbitrary and unsatisfactory–is to separate from the rest of the Jewish world by dividing the Torah portion Shemini (Lev. 10 12) into two weekly portions. Half will be read this Shabbat and half next week.

A Magnificent Lesson

I much prefer to read from the eighth day Passover portion because of the magnificent lesson it teaches. To appreciate that lesson we must pay heed to a stark contradiction in the text!
in Deuteronomy 15:4 we read a categorical statement beginning with one of the most categorical of all Hebrew words, אפס (efes), which means, “zero” or “not a single one.” “There shall be no needy among you.”
But just several sentences later (DT:15:11) we read,”For the poor shall never cease to exist in your land!”
The lesson is that if everyone followed God’s commandments and fulfilled our half of the covenant the Eternal One first made with Abraham and Sarah, there would indeed be no needy among us. That covenant calls on us to
–be a blessing in our lives (Genesis 12:2)
–try as best we can to understand and be worthy of God’s teachings (Genesis 17:1)
–and to our best and teach our progeny to do their best to fill the world with Tzedakah and Mishpat, “righteousness and justice.” (Genesis 18:19)

Yes, if everyone did those things, there would be no needy among us!
But the hard truth remains that not everyone will live up to those teachings, and therefore, there will always be needy among us.

Our Mandate

The imperative, then, for those of us who take Torah seriously is to do all that we can to alleviate the poverty around us. We dare not harden our hearts nor tighten our fist in the face of the poor who cry out to us. Rather to the best of our ability we must take responsibility for them and do what we can to help.

Not a Formula But an Attitude

Of course that will mean different things to difference people. The Torah is not telling us each precisely what we must do. It’s goal is to affect our attitude. Each of us must decide: do we take responsibility for improving life in our world or do we simply consider our own selfish needs? The Torah’s answer is clear, and the end of the festival during which we have proclaimed,”Let all who are hungry come and eat, (Haggadah)” is a perfect time to remind ourselves of that lesson.