Rita Goldberg

June 3, 2018

Today, Vickie and I are at the picturesque church in the village of Schulensee in northern Germany where I am preaching to the Lutheran congregation about the events on Mount Sinai and how they can speak meaningfully to Christians as well as to Jews.

Yes, our bodies are in Schulensee but our hearts are at Rita Goldberg’s funeral.

From the day I first met her in Columbia, Rita appreciated interfaith outreach, and enthusiastically encouraged my efforts in that realm. I dedicate my words today in her memory.

Growing up in a small town in Pennsylvania with few Jews, Rita particularly appreciated the importance of inter-religious understanding and cooperation. She took a keen interest in what Vickie and I do in Germany, and I dedicate my words today to her memory.  Although Rita would be glad we are here, Vickie and I wish we were with Dick and all of you today.

Rita Zieve Goldberg … I always thought of her as Rita Z.

She was the daughter of a beloved small-town physician who made house calls. Rita inherited his wisdom and compassion.

We met in 1973. They came to Columbia and Temple Isaiah just before I arrived to begin my one-year internship with the congregation. We have been dear friends ever since.

I was first in awe of Rita when I learned she had personally known the great baseball player Richie Allen in high school. The subsequent years would yield more substantive reasons for me to be in awe of Rita.

To me she was ageless. She never seemed young, and – even when we visited her a few weeks back in hospice care—she never seemed old.

Her speech had a unique and endearing lilt, and her laugh was unmistakable. Perhaps it was Rita’s greatest triumph that she was able to laugh and smile despite the tragedy and endless list of illnesses that marked her life’s path.

The first—of many—volunteer jobs I remember Rita taking on was making peanut butter and jelly sandwiches to serve as a luncheon for the monthly family services Temple Isaiah began holding at Swansfield Neighborhood center.

I remember Dianne Tobin playing a toy organ, I remember the smiling faces of children, some of whom became rabbis, sitting on the floor before me as I told a Shabbat story, but the magic that makes those memories so special was Rita’s sandwiches.I

Rita wore many hats, loving wife and occasional ego deflator of Dick, devoted mother of Andy, advisor to the rabbi, confidante of Vickie, peerless hostess and dear friend to so many.

As memorable as Rita was as a hostess, she was even more memorable as a guest. When she came to your home for any social occasion, you could count on a beautifully handwritten note of thanks appearing in your mailbox the next business day.

Our lives intersected frequently at events big and small, both joyous and sad. She was a fabulous storyteller.

Her home was a favorite sleepover destination for our son Leo when he was small. Vickie was very pregnant with Sarah when we attended second night Seder at their home in 1979. We always recount how Rita’s Matzah balls that evening were the catalyst that sent Vickie into labor to give birth the following day.

Fast-forward to recent days, and it was Rita and Dick who visited out children in San Francisco to give wise council to each of them at a difficult time.

I remember Andy’s Bar Mitzvah like it was yesterday. The date was the Shabbat during Sukkot. Because I was very big on having families build Sukkot, I suggested to Andy that his family should build one. It did not take Rita long to appear in my office to share that Sukkah building was not a Goldberg family forte, and that we should think of some other way to connect Andy’s Bar Mitzvah to the festival. After we put our heads together, Rita and Andy came up with the idea of a model sukkah made out of Popsicle sticks. I can still see it in my mind.

That episode was so typical of Rita. If sukkah building was not her forte, finding equitable solutions to potential conflicts surely was.

More clearly than the miniature Sukkah, I can still see the joy Rita’s face radiated at how much Andy learned and how skillfully he taught the congregation at his Bar Mitzvah.

Inevitably my memories of Rita on that wonderful day in October 1981 scramble discordantly together in my mind with my memories of that horrible day in March of 2009 when Andy died.

There is no greater heartbreak for a mother than to lose a child, and if possible, the heartbreak is even greater when that child is your one and only, and your souls are so inextricably intertwined as are Rita and Dick’s souls with Andy’s.

And yet Rita pushed on with determination and purpose.

Miraculously she found joy in life despite the horror of losing Andy and despite the incredible list of medical issues with which she lived. Through all she endured, even on her deathbed, Rita was always smiling and always looking for ways to help others.

That is why I will always be genuinely in awe of her.

She and Dick shared a remarkable marriage of well over 50 years. Truly they were meant for each other, so much so that it is hard to imagine one without the other. No more poignant definition of the word, “Alone,” comes to my mind than Dick without Rita.

I cannot say with certainty what happens to Rita now, but my hope is that she is not alone. In my mind’s eye I see her reunited with her parents and most of all with Andy.

Together, unfettered by infirmities, they will laugh, smile and revel in each other’s company. They will look after one another, and together they will hope that we will look after Dick with the incredible love and devotion with which Dick looked after her.

That is the best way I know to insure that the memory of Rita Zieve Goldberg will be an enduring blessing!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pastors’ Convention in Breklum

 

Below: Participants in Breklum Convention

So …

Here I am at the Christian Jensen Kolleg in Breklum, Germany.

What am I doing here?

I am invited to address a regional convention for Lutheran Pastors on the concept of “Memory” in Jewish thought and to connect those ideas to aJewish Theology after Auschwitz.

Wow! Am nervous?

All the anxieties and fears and nervous feelings that well up in me any time I speak to any group anywhere are multiplied to the fourth power.

To make me even more nervous, the Propst (Area wide Supervisong Pastor) Stefan Block, who invited me, let me know that as far as the conference attendees are concerned, “You are a surprise visitor.” That means these Pastors are unaware that a Rabbi will address them tonight.

Wow!

  • What if they do not want to hear a Rabbi?
  • What if my talk stinks?
  • What if they laugh at me?

Now a good part of me knows I am overplaying my fears. But the fear is real nonetheless.

My room at the College is lovely — spacious and airy with lots of green trees in full bloom right outside my window.

Now I have just returned from lunch.

It was a welcome relief to be greeted so warmly by two wonderful Pastors at whose churches  have spoken in past years: Martina Dittkrist from Kaltenkirchen and Anke Wolf-Steger from Schulensee. I have such wonderful memories of how each of these Pastors welcomed Vickie and me to their communities and hosted us after the service for a delicious lunch in their homes.

Seeing them and feeling the genuine warmth of their smiles has made me feel more comfortable. I am still nervous, but I feel a bit more at ease now.

The Next Morning

i am feeling gratified. The presentation went very well in large measure because I spent the afternoon listening, listening and listening to their own struggles and the struggles of their families and parishioners with the memories of what they were doing during the Hitler years.

Hearing their struggles somehow took the jumble of material swirling around in my head and helped it come out in a coherent one-hour presentation that I offered without notes of any kind.

After a fifteen-minute break there were probing questions and, I pray, helpful answers. I left them with the thought that their questions were more important than my answers. I stressed the importance of memory as a lesson from which to learn. And I emphasized as I do before almost every German audience I address:

Wir können die Vergangenheit nicht ungeschehen  machen, aber wir können gemeinsam an einer besseren Zukunft arbeiten!

We cannot undo the past, but we can work together to shape a better future …

for our children, grandchildren and all the generations that will follow

 

 

 

In Memoriam: Gilbert F. Adams

Below: Mr. Adams and me when I spoke at the Presbyterian Home, Clinton, NY, in 2016.

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(Delivered May 5, 2018, Hamilton College Chapel)

There could be no more fitting setting for Mr. Adams’ Memorial service than this chapel. In all my years I have never encountered a person so devoted to his or her alma mater as Mr. Adams was to Hamilton College.

I am proud to be one of the few people Mr. Adams recruited to Hamilton twice.

Although I long ago reached the age where it was appropriate for me to call him Gil, it is a mark of my reverence for the man that he will always be Mr. Adams to me.

Mr. Adams coached East Orange High School’s first varsity hockey team when I was a sophomore. Mr. Adams coached his heart out, and we played as hard as we could. Unfortunately, as hard as we could play resulted in an 0-15 and 1 season. That one tie against Morris Hills Regional High, something of a powerhouse team in our league, remains a precious memory.

After my sophomore year, Mr. Adams left East Orange for West Essex Regional High where he coached their hockey team to the state championship.  I was in the stands for the final game against highly favored Chatham High.

When the final buzzer sounded Mr. Adams smile was as big as the sky. But his first gesture was not to celebrate but to seek out and shake the hand of the opposing coach and then to console and congratulate Chatham’s star player, Leroy Brennan, on an outstanding game.

I have learned that the F. in Mr. Adams name stands for, “Flagler,” but in my mind it stood for his hallmark, “Fair play.”

Through the 15 losses of my sophomore season, Mr. Adams, although he hated to lose, was always gracious in defeat. But I have never lost sight of the fact that he was equally gracious and humble when he was the Head Coach of the State Champs.

Although Mr. Adams left EOHS after my sophomore year, he maintained – and I honestly do not know why — an interest in me. 

In the fall of my senior year he called to invite me to join him on a trip to visit, “a very good college” where he would arrange for me to have an admissions interview

And so Mr. Adams drove me to Hamilton where I had an interview, saw a basketball game and slept in the TKE House, Mr. Adams old fraternity.

But I was not the only reason Mr. Adams drove up to Hamilton that fall.

Mr. Adams traveled to the Hill to have a long heart to heart with another of his East Orange protégées, Tyrone Brown.

Ty was “Mr. Everything” at EOHS, but after three years, he was considering dropping out of Hamilton.  Mr. Adams was there to tell him –in no uncertain terms — that was not a good idea.

Thanks to Mr. Adams, Tyrone stayed at Hamilton, went on to Cornell Law School, was Managing Editor of the Law Review and became the first African American to clerk for Chief Justice Earl Warren of the United States Supreme Court. A most distinguished Law career ensued.

Mr. Adams must have been tired from being up all night talking to Ty because he actually allowed me to drive his car for a short part of the journey home. It was the first time I had ever driven a stick shift, and boy did he wake up quickly when I took the wheel.

Mr. Adams and I renewed our close contact when he became Hamilton’s Director of Alumni Affairs in 1967.

When he learned I had made the final of the NCAA regional College Tennis tournament my senior year, he made the six-hour drive to Rider College in Trenton New Jersey to see me play.

I wanted to win that match as much for him as for myself and for Hamilton. But, alas, Arthur Carrington of Hampton institute, who subsequently went on to win the national championship of the American Tennis Association and become a distinguished coach and tennis historian, was simply a better player.

I gave everything I had that day, and of course I was disappointed, but Mr. Adams had taught me there is only one way to lose: graciously.

 “No one cares …” I can still hear him say, “No one cares whether you had a sore ankle, a big test that day or about any other excuse.  People care about two things: who won and what was the score?”

In all my years of schooling  — at Hamilton, through five subsequent years and four summers of rabbinical studies and four additional part time years at Vanderbilt for my D. Min. degree, I have never learned a more important lesson.

At the time I graduated Hamilton— unlike today I am happy to say — there were no Jewish studies courses or any other Jewish programming on campus.

So when I began my rabbinical studies, I had almost no Hebrew training, and many of my classmates were well advanced in their knowledge of the language. Bridging that gap was the greatest academic challenge I have faced.

When I thought I couldn’t make it, Mr. Adams’ words came back to me. There are no excuses. Just work as hard as you can, and live with the results. Thank you Mr. Adams for that crucial lesson.

Prior to his becoming the first EOHS hockey coach, Mr. Adams had been a long time Assistant coach on EO’s outstanding varsity football team.

One of the legends of East Orange football was a young man named William “Junie” Walker.

Back in 1953 Walker picked up a fumble on his own two-yard line and rushed 98 years to seal EO’s victory over archrival and previously unbeaten Montclair. His heroics gave East Orange a share of the State Championship. There was a parade down Main Street, and it seemed the whole city turned out to celebrate the victory.

Six years later in 1959 “Junie” Walker died tragically. At the funeral, Mr. Adams told me, “ even though just a few years before, Junie Walker was the ‘Toast of East Orange,’ I was embarrassed that I was the only white person there. After all he did for our city, it just seemed like the right thing to do.” What an impression that left on me!

For Mr. Adams, there was only one race: the human race.

The second time Mr. Adams recruited me to Hamilton was in 1997 when he attended my installation as Senior Rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel in West Hartford, Connecticut.

At the time he was Director of Hamilton College’s Elderhostel Program, and he invited me to be part of the, Another Day Another Scholar, series. Each fall for the next five years I would journey up to Hamilton, stay overnight, give three lectures the next day, and drive home that night. Although the trip was grueling, I loved teaching about “Genesis’ Earliest Stories.”

But the opportunity to see Mr. Adams and to spend some time with him really made those trips worthwhile for me.

Our tradition teaches that a good marriage is no accident. It is part of God’s plan. Mr. and Mrs. Adams shared a very special love.

For many years now Mr. Adams has missed the Mickey he fell in love with when she was a student at Rochester and he studied here.

It is eight years since she died, but she was ill for many years before that. Through all of those years, Mr. Adams devotion to and concern for her care never flagged.

Now, I like to imagine they are together again, both strong, both young, both in the full flower of youthful love.

I wish I had proof that it was so, but I know that as Dr Seuss once wrote, “It should be it should be it should be that way.”

Mr. Adams deserves nothing less. He deserves nothing less than the richest reward God can bestow. His memory will always be a blessing to me and to all of us who knew him.

 

For 65 Years

Judith nd Howard copy

(ABOVE: Judith and Howard Mayer receiving a special blessing to mark their 65th wedding anniversary)

Judith and Howard Mayer symbolize for me the sacred spirt of Bat Yam Temple of the Islands

On my very first weekend as the new rabbi at Bat Yam last September, I learned that Judith and Howard’s grandson had died tragically.

What does one say to people you have never met in an effort to offer comfort over such a tragic loss?

Nothing

No words could possibly bring comfort at a time like that, but I wanted to be there to listen to their anguish and offer an outlet for their grief.

Instead of words I offered two ears and heartfelt hugs.

It was the least I could do and the most I could do.

Judith and Howard’s son is a renowned Cantor in Rhode Island. He hurried into town to be with them at the busiest time in the Jewish year. His presence was a healing balm. Nevertheless their pain was and remains palpable.

Pain this searing and deep is pain from which people never recover.

But Judith and Howard are an inspiration to all of us who know them. Their life experience taught them that despite their agony, they have no productive choice but to move forward, one foot in front of the other, to face the future. Although it is not easy, with courageous resolve they do just that.

Like every other member of Bat Yam Temple of the Islands in Sanibel the Mayers are transplants. Like all of us they come “from somewhere else.”

Nevertheless this community  which everyone entered as a stranger is now a family. We are a family that cares about our Jewish heritage as witnessed by the extraordinary percentage of members who turn out for worship on Shabbat Eve and for study on Shabbat morning.

But more importantly we are a family that cares about one another.

The Mayers are almost always present, and when they come, they are never alone. Worshipper after worshipper makes a point to greet them and give them hugs.

Judith and Howard are not young. They are frail and often tired, Yet each is the strength of the other. And each of them draws additional strength from their congregational family.

And last night, when I had the privilege to ask the Eternal One to bless them on their 65th anniversary, their faces glowed with happiness.

As Judith, Howard and I stood together before the open ark, I realized that when human resolve, God’s help, and the love of a caring community converge, there is truth in the Psalmist’s words:

בערב ילין בכי ולבקר רנה

“Weeping may tarry for the night, but joy comes in the morning!״ (Psalm 30:6)

May Judith and Howard share many more moments of joy with one another and with their congregational family!

 

 

Holding With Open Arms

The Shabbat following Sarah’s glorious wedding marks the 26 th anniversary of her Bat Mitzvah.

Had she been born the day she became a Bat Mitzvah, she would be old enough to have celebrated two more. Where did the time go?

The sophisticated hairstyle of her wedding day was such a stark contrast to the huge bow she wore in her hair on the day she read from the Torah.

There were so many other differences too, most of them, obvious. She is now a sophisticated highly-educated professional who supervises lots of people. She has traveled much if the world and interacts seamlessly and respectfully with CEOs and house cleaners alike. She is the mother of two wonderful children whom she skillfully guides through the discoveries, joys and perils of childhood.

Without a doubt, the lessons she taught as a Bat Mitzvah from Leviticus Holiness Code (chapter 19) are part of her essence and clearly values that she and Clive uphold together:

  • Leave the corners of your field for those less fortunate than you.
  • Don’t take advantage of the vulnerability of others,
  • Don’t engage in gossip,
  • Treat those who work for you with dignity and respect,
  • Don’t stand idly by in the face of injustice.

All of these ideals fall under the rubric, ואהבת לרעך כמוך —  “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Leviticus 19:18)

On her wedding day many present noted what Vickie and I have both clearly observed: Sarah seems happier today than any of us can ever remember her.

And of course we are thrilled. Our daughter has turned into a a kind, caring, capable and loving woman of whom we are so very proud,

And yet—

As we danced at her wedding — though the years had transformed her — I embraced — with open arms — my little girl, who read from the Torah with the huge bow in her hair.

Transitions

Time has flown by!

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It is hard for me to believe, but as I write these words I am preparing for my last Shabbat at Bat Yam until September!

As I look back over this season, the passage in Genesis about Jacob’s first seven years with Laban come to mind:  “They (the seven years) seemed to him but a few days because of his love for her (Rachel).” (Genesis 29:20)

It seems to me that “but a few days” ago Vickie and I arrived on Sanibel in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma.  The warm embrace of both of us by the Bat Yam Temple of the Islands family  made the past eight months fly by quickly.

The days between now and when we return a few days before Selichot (September 1) will be busy.

Mr. Adams

On May 5, I will speak (will have spoken) at the Memorial service for my beloved 94-year-old HS hockey coach and mentor Gilbert F. Adams. The service, most fittingly will be in the Hamilton College Chapel. It is so fitting that the service be there because I never met anyone who loved his alma mater as much as Mr. Adams loved Hamilton. He recruited me for the school and personally drove me there for my interview and campus tour. We have been in close contact ever since.

The next day I will speak and lead a study session at St. John’s Episcopal Church in West Hartford. The church is across the street from our synagogue, and many years ago—long before my time there—Congregation Beth Israel invited St. John’s to worship in our sanctuary when a fire gutted theirs.

Return to Germany

On May 13, Vickie and I leave for Germany where we shall spend five weeks teaching together about the Shoo-in high schools and where I will speak in synagogues, churches and offer a seminar to rabbinical students at the Abraham Geiger College in Berlin. One of the highlights will be to celebrate Shavuot, the festival commemorating the giving of Torah on Mount Sinai, in Friedrichsstadt, the city where in 2015, I had the privilege of conducting the first Jewish service in that city since Kristallnachtin 1938.

In mid June we return to West Hartford. There we shall immerse ourselves in the innumerable details of transitioning to temporary residents of West Hartford and primary residents of Sanibel.

We already have our Florida drivers’ licenses, and we are very proud of our “Save the Manatee” license plate!

 

As My Daughter Marries

Today our daughter is marrying — for the second time. She has found the love of her life in Clive Downie. I pray they will always be as happy and so obviously in love with one another as they are today.
The amber light for me as a father is the fact that Clive has been to the altar three times before. But lots of hard self analysis convinces him, and more importantly, my beloved Sarah Jenny, that this time is different.
Sarah is one if the most astute judges of character I know. If she’s convinced that, “this time is completely different,” then I desperately want to be too. I am.
Clive is wicked smart, very successful, a loving father to his two boys, and most importantly to me, loving, kind and considerate to Sarah.
Does it bother me that Clive is not Jewish? Much less than I would have thought. He is so very supportive of and interested in Sarah’s Jewishness and her determination that theirs will be a warm, loving Jewish home, and I am most impressed by that.
Sarah’s first husband is a Jew by birth, but the practices and traditions were not hallmarks in his life. So from a Jewish perspective, her marriage to Clive is a net gain
One thing is sure. I love my daughter with all my heart and soul. I hope she knows that whatever happens in her life I will always be there for her.
I also know nothing in life is certain or perfect. We each make the best deal with Life that we can based on knowledge available to us at the moment.
It is clear to me that Sarah is doing that, and she is not rushing rashly forward without hours, indeed years, of thoughtful process.
So on this, my daughter’s wedding day I embrace Clive wholeheartedly and trust that he and Sarah will cherish, love, support and protect one another— with all of their being— for the rest of their days.
As a father who so deeply loves his daughter, I cannot ask for more.

 

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What Does Created in God’s Image Mean?

In memory of Gilbert Flagler Adams, (December 23, 1923 – April 15, 2018) 

 

The first chapter of Genesis teaches that God creates human beings, “in the image of God” (verse 26). People often ask, “What does that mean”

It certainly does not mean that we look like God.  It means that of all the creatures on earth we have the most God-like powers.  It means that we human beings are in charge of and responsible for life on this planet.  It is an awesome responsibility with which God has entrusted us.

God charges us:  (Genesis 1:28):

Be fruitful and multiply fill up the earth and take responsibility for it. And rule compassionately over the fish of the sea the birds of the air and all the living things that creep on the earth.”

Jewish tradition teaches that we human beings stand midway between God and all the other animals on earth.    Like the animals we eat, drink, sleep, eliminate our waster, procreate and die. But in a God-like way, we have the power to think, analyze, communicate and shape our environment in a manner far beyond other creatures.

In our Holy Day prayerbook, Gates of Repentance (p. 415) we find a magnificent liturgical expression of what it means to be created in the “Divine image:”

We were unlike other creatures–

         Not for us the tiger’s claws,

         The elephant’s thick hide,

         Or the crocodile’s scaly armor.

         To the gazelle we were slow of foot,

         To the lioness a weakling,

         And the eagle thought us bound to earth.

         But You gave us powers they could not comprehend:

         A skillful hand,

         A probing mind…

         A soul aspiring to know and fulfill its destiny

 Being created in the Divine image means that we humans are the only creatures on earth who can mine ore from the side of a mountain, turn the ore into iron and the iron into steel and from that steel forge the most delicate of instruments with which to operate on a human brain or an open heart.  But we are also the only creatures on earth that can go to that same mountain, mine the same ore turn it into iron and steel to make bombs and bullets whose only purpose is to kill or maim.

Being created in God’s image means we have awesome, earth enhancing or earth shattering power. 

God’s hope is that we use our power to help create on this planet a more just, caring and compassionate society than exists today.  But we – not God – will decide if we choose to do so or not.

 

 

Happy 70th Birthday, Israel!

Israel is not perfect! Israel is not Utopia! Israel is not the Garden of Eden.

Israel has a Prime Minister under investigation, a government that treats religious but non-orthodox Jews with disdain, a black eye over African refuges seeking asylum, and of course issues with the Palestinian population, which from ten thousand miles away, it seems to me Israel could do a better job of handling.

Why then, do I get goose bumps when I attend an Israel@70 celebration, and we sing Ha-Tikvah, (“The Hope”), Israel’s national anthem?

I get goose bumps because Israel –its very real flaws not withstanding—represents the end of 2000 years of Jewish exile and homelessness.

Israel represents the destroyed Jewish communities of Germany, Russia, Poland, Lithuania, Czechoslovakia, Hungary, Iraq, Iran, France, Algeria, Morocco, Yemen and Spain. Israel represents the hope rising from the despair of two thousand years of exiles from these and other places around the globe.

When the Ottoman Empire dissolved after World War I, some twenty Arab/Islamic nation states forged identities on land that had been controlled by Turkey. No one questions their legitimacy.  Jews also lived in the Ottoman Empire. Jews also had national aspirations.  Israel represents a tiny sliver of Jewish real estate on the immense landmass on which those Arab-Islamic nations appeared.

Yet from the time Jews – many years before Israel became a state—began to return to their ancestral home, the Arab world swore they would not permit it.

They tried to drive Israel into the sea when the United Nations proclaimed it a sovereign state on November 29, 1947, but somehow, though surrounded by hostile enemies, the fledgling country survived.  The Arab world again mobilized to destroy Israel in 1967, but somehow the tiny country thwarted and repulsed the threat.

Now Israel is, thank God, strong militarily, and, lo and behold, all those people who never wanted Israel to exist in the first place, call her the oppressor.

They—inexplicably–lay at Israel’s doorstep the blame for defending herself against those who try to infiltrate her borders. They blame Israel because the Arab world keeps its refugees in squalid refugee camps instead of following Israel’s example of teaching the many Jewish refugees whom it welcomed a language, job skills and providing housing for them.

They blame Israel for the fact that from the cradle through nursery school and into adolescence Palestinian children are taught to glorify “martyrs.” They lionize those who die in the act of killing Israelis or Jews. They name roads and schools after terrorists, and they build monuments to them.

How does one make peace with people like that?

Then they blame Israel for building a security barrier to protect its citizens from vicious acts of infiltration and terror. Hardly a week goes by that Israeli intelligence does not discover another series of tunnels under construction so that terrorists can cross Israel’s border in order to take Israeli lives.

No, Israel is far from perfect, but Palestinians who live there agree that life is better for them there than in any of the Arab countries.

It gives me pride that Israel has a vigorous free press where citizens are welcome to attack the government and its officials at will. I am glad that Israel does not suppress the voices of even its harshest critics. It gives me pride that in Israel Arabs serve on the supreme court and as heads of universities, as members of Parliament and in other high positions.

In what Arab country do Jews serve in similar positions?

So, in spite of Israel’s flaws, I still get goose bumps at “The Hope” Ha-Tikvah expresses: “To be a free people in our own land.”

Happy 70thbirthday, Israel!

In spite of everything, I pray that 71 will find you and your neighbors living in peace and harmony.

Yes, like everyone I wish there would be peace. But until there is peace, I am glad that Israel is strong enough to defend itself against those who wish to destroy her.

Like so many I ask, when will there be peace? The words attributed to Golda Meir say it best:

 “We will have peace when the Arabs love their children more than they hate us!

Those words are still true today.

“So, Who Created God?”

My fifth book, Who Created God? And Other Essays, compiled and edited by Susan Marie Shuman, is just off the press and available at AMAZON.comhttps://tinyurl.com/y9tawrln.

The subject is one I have pondered my entire life.

The title emanates from an incident that occurred back in 1968 at the very beginning of my rabbinical studies. As the years have gone by, I have questioned what God is and what God is not with increasing intensity.

As a first-year student at the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, Los Angeles campus, I conducted Friday night worship at the Flora Terrace Convalescent Home on Pico Boulevard. I led Shabbat Eve worship and then visited patients in their rooms. I earned $10.00 for each visit.

Considering my preparation and the time I spent at Flora Terrace each week, I might have earned $2.00 and hour. I did not care. I would have paid them for the experience

One Friday night, not long after I began leading worship there, the attendant greeted me with, “Rabbi, you have a new congregant. Rabbi Rosenfeld, an 85- year-old Orthodox rabbi is with us, and he will a end your service.”

“What?!” I thought to myself. “An Orthodox rabbi is coming to my service! Many Orthodox rabbis hold Reform Judaism in disdain. What will he think? How will he react?”

These thoughts played on my mind during the service. Rabbi Rosenfeld sat there, alert but impassive. There was a large black kipah on his head and the Union Prayer Bookfrom which we prayed sat tightly shut in his hands the whole time.

After the service I made my rounds and approached his room with trepidation.

He was most gracious. He said the service was nice (I breathed a deep sigh of relief), and he suggested that when I make a blessing like the Kiddushover the wine or the motzi over the challah, I should have everyone join me.

The he told me a story.

“I am 85-years-old,” he said, “and I have been studying Torah my whole life. And yet I still feel like I am at the beginning of my studies.”

“How is that?” I asked.

“When I was six-years-old, my teacher handed me a Chumash (text of the Five books of the Torah in book form) and said, ‘Read!’

So I read (in Hebrew) the first words of the Torah, ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth.’

Then, I looked up and asked, ‘If in the beginning God created the heavens and the earth, so who created God?’

And WHAM! I got such a slap across the face that I still feel it, so I always feel I am at the beginning of my studies.”

In studying Torah, “Who created God?” is as appropriate a question as, “What was the (unnamed, and nowhere does it say ‘apple’) fruit that led to Adam and Eve’s expulsion from Eden?”

In traditional Jewish life, one who has strayed from religious observance but returns to the fold is considered one who, “hozer b’tshuvah, one who returns in repentance.” Literally translated the phrase means, “one who returns with answers.”

The late renowned Rabbi Harold Schulweis taught he felt greater admiration for one “sheh hozer b’she’elah, one who returns with questions.”

Questions are the lifeblood of learning.

In the study of Torah, no questions should be out of bounds, so, “Who created God?”

I pray I never stop asking the question.

 

I would love to see you at the book launch for Who Created God? And Other Essays. It will take place at the pot luck supper ($10.00) of Sanibel Congregational UCC, 2050 Periwinkle Way on Thursday, April 12 at 5:30 PM. Please call the church office at (239) 472-0497 to make reservations.