A Dream Come True!

russian-book-photo

Since I first came to Germany in 2011 I realized that most of the Jews living here today are native Russian speakers. I am thrilled, therefore to announce that my book, What’s in It for Me? Finding Ourselves in Biblical Narratives has just come out in Russian.

The book is due to the vision of Pastor Ursula Sieg, President and CEO of Mutual Blessing Edition,  the company she founded a year ago to facilitate the publication of the German translation of my book.

I am overjoyed that Russian speakers will have access to this concise interpretive non-Orthodox perspective on the narratives in the Torah. I pray that this volume will help Russian speakers appreciate the ways biblical stories can affect our lives for the better.

The translation into Russian was prepared by Alexandra Oks, and I am most grateful to her. I also gratefully thank Dr. Serafine Christine Kratzke for her skillful work on the layout of the book.

It will be a while before all of the logistics involved in establishing a system for distribution of the book can be worked out, but for now I am very happy that we have reached this milestone.

My colleagues who work in and for the Russian communities will be the first to receive copies. I hope they will be of help in opening doors to enable the book to reach more people who might benefit from it.

 

Why We Celebrate Rosh Hashanah

Finding Ourselves In Biblical Narratives

Despite the violence that plagues American cities and the growth of terrorism around the world Jews will welcome Rosh Hashanah 5777 on Sunday evening, October 2, with hope that the New Year will be better than the last.

Our New Year celebrates the anniversary of the creation of the world. “This is the day of the world’s birth,” we proclaim each time we hear the Shofar’s (ram’s horn) blast on Rosh Hashanah!

Rosh Hashanah receives very little mention in the Torah, but it grew into the major celebration it is today because our people needed a day to celebrate the message and ideals of Genesis’ magnificent Story of Creation.

The Creation Story is not a scientific account of the world’s creation. It is a religious poem teaching us why we are here. The truths of the creation story are the religious ideas that it sets forth–ideas upon which all subsequent Jewish…

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Begnadet wie Pater Anselm Grün

I am so very grateful to Claudia Linker (who would love to hear from you at: cl@aktivierende-lernsysteme.de) for this gracious review of the German translation of my book: What’s in It for Me? Finding Ourselves in Biblical Narratives.
Als Christin weiß ich: Das Alte Testament ist uns aus dem Judentum überliefert, verbindet uns mit ihnen und begründet das Neue Testament.

Als Christin fällt mir der Zugang zum Alten Testament oft schwer. Mühe habe ich, den liebenden Gott zu erkennen, an den ich glaube:
Zornig und ungerecht scheint mir, wie Gott mit Kain umgeht.
Brutal ist, wie er von Abraham verlangt, den eigenen Sohn umzubringen.
Ärgerlich scheint, wie er Jakobs ergaunertes Erstgeburtsrecht gelten lässt.
Genau diese und viele andere Geschichten legt Rabbi Fuchs aus. Um die Warum-Frage geht es ihm dabei aber nicht. Zumindest nicht in dem Sinne, dass er Gottes Tun verklärend glatt bügeln würde. Gott sei Dank.

Rabbi Stephen Fuchs will mehr. Ich vergleiche ihn mit Pater Anselm Grün. Beide sind begnadet darin, den komplexen biblischen Geschichten mit großer Einfachheit auf den Grund zu gehen. Das ist eine große Kunst. Sie führt in die Meditation, Lesen wird zum Gebet: Die Texte öffnen Herz und Ohren, berühren, lassen mich Gott fragen: „Was sagst Du mir heute?“. Dabei helfen die überraschenden, immer warmherzigen, manchmal witzigen Interpretationen von Rabbi Fuchs. Sie führen in das vertrauensvolle, heitere Gebet, dass jeder gläubige Mensch für sich wohl anstrebt.

Einem zweiten Anliegen dient das Buch: der Versöhnung. Rabbi Fuchs bewirkt es allein schon dadurch, dass er mir seine jüdische Sicht in einfachen, warmen, freundlichen Worten nahe bringt, die ich verstehen kann. Das ist wie ein Freundschaftsangebot. Ich weiß nach der Lektüre nur ein kleines Bisschen mehr. Vor allem weiß ich, wie wenig ich immer noch weiß über das Judentum. Aber ich ahne besser noch, dass jede Religion Schätze der Erkenntnis in sich birgt, die auch mir zum Geschenk werden können. Das gilt für mich als Christin selbstverständlich ganz besonders für das Judentum.

Das Büchlein von Rabbi Fuchs werde ich immer wieder zur Hand nehmen und in die Meditation gehen. Es hilft mir, zu lernen, wie auch ich einfach, warm und freundlich von meinem Glauben sprechen kann. Es tut mir gut.

Robert D. Chamberlain, MD

When Dr. Mark Weissburst retired from the practice of cardiology in 1999, I had serious concerns. Having had open-heart surgery to replace a congenitally defective aortic valve three years prior, I needed regular cardiac supervision and care.

Dr. Weissburst was not only a skilled doctor. He was a congregant and a friend. We were on a first name basis, and I knew that if I had a serious problem, he would welcome my call at home any time of the day or night.

I call that kind of care “Rabbi Perks,” and I have unashamedly availed myself of them with all my physicians.

But we were fairly new to the greater Hartford area and I did not know another cardiologist who I felt would give me the level of personal, handholding attention that Dr. Weissburst provided.

Then Dr. Joel Deutsch, of blessed memory, spoke to me to recommend Dr. Robert Chamberlain. Dr. Deutsch was renowned as a physician not only for his great knowledge and skill but for the personal care he gave each and every patient. He also did not suffer fools lightly.

So when Joel suggested I ask Dr. Chamberlain to be my new cardiologist I listened. I listened even though I did not know him personally. If I went to him, there would be no “Rabbi Perks,” and once you have gotten used to those they are hard to give up.

But when Joel, who could be very critical of people–particularly physicians–who did things in ways he did not approve, said that Dr. Chamberlain took care of him and that he was “highly satisfied,” I decided to make an appointment.

I am so glad I did.

Dr. Chamberlain was everything Joel said he would be. He was knowledgeable, personable and eager to find out as much about my history and me as he could. He immediately made me feel comfortable and never rushed our time together.

At the same time he was efficient. When I came to the office, there would be a short amount of banter about the trials and triumphs of the Red Sox, and then he dealt with what I had come in for. For the first several years he did my echocardiograms by himself instead of sending me to a technician. His instant analyses were always reassuring.

He was concerned early on that my artificial aortic heart valve was slowly developing an ascending aortic aneurysm. He watched it very carefully.

When in the spring of 2012, I went through a period of feeling very lethargic; he did a series of tests. He called me into the office and said, “I have good news and not so good news. The good news is that, “I have figured out what is making you feel such a lack of energy. You have a low heart rate. The not so good news is that you need a pacemaker.”

“When should we do that,” I asked?

“Come to the hospital after your Sabbath dinner this evening,” he answered. “They will prep you tonight, and I will take care of it tomorrow morning.”

Not long thereafter he said, “It’s time to consider repairing the aneurysm surgically. At the same time it might be prudent to replace your mechanical heart valve with a tissue valve. That way you can get off Coumadin (which I had taken daily since July 1996).

“It’s a complex operation,” he continued. “You will feel like you have been hit by a truck, but I think it will be worth it.”

Then he added, “I recommend that you go to a major medical center where they do large numbers of this type operation.”

After we did some research, Vickie and I mentioned the Cleveland Clinic, and he thought that was an excellent choice.

Then he did some research and suggested Dr. Lars Svensson, a renowned heart surgeon, who had repaired the aneurysm of the Boston Celtics Forward Jeff Green. When I learned that after a year’s recuperation, Jeff Green returned to play professional basketball, I was sold.

I figured that if Dr. Svensson was good enough for the Boston Celtics, he was good enough for me.

 

Dr. Chamberlain made me feel confident in heading off to Cleveland, and he was eager to see me as soon as I returned. He monitored me closely until I was stable, and soon after that, he decided to retire from practice. I have since wondered whether the Eternal One had him postpone that decision until I was well once again. In any case I am glad he did.

While we were never on a first name basis, and while I neither asked for nor received the “Rabbi Perks” I have enjoyed with other physicians, I know I could not have received better care than Dr. Chamberlain gave me.

When my new (and very wonderful) cardiologist, Dr. Ronald Bloom told me that Dr. Chamberlain was gravely ill, I reached out to him with a copy of my book and a letter telling him how much his care will always mean to me.

When I learned of his death, profound sadness and deep gratitude overwhelmed me. I imagine him in the great beyond cheering the Red Sox on and–with skill and humility–continuing to mend damaged hearts.

Yes, that is what I imagine, but one thing I can say for sure. As long as my heart beats, his memory will endure there for a blessing.

 

 

Disgrace in Tulsa!

https://apple.news/AVP6Z4yg1RP-ZNYtembPAQg

Once again rogue policemen have violated their sacred trust “to protect and to serve.”

Four criminals dressed in the uniforms of the Tulsa Police Department, tried convicted and executed Terence Crutcher for the crime of having his vehicle break down while being Black.

He was unarmed!

The problem was these outlaws were supposedly trained and sworn in to serve on the force!

Robert Bates, a volunteer deputy has already  been charged with manslaughter foran April 2015 shooting. After watching the video from yesterday, it looks like Officer Betty Shelby committed cold-blooded murder!

How long?!

How long will our cities and our nation condone murder in the guise of law enforcement?

Robert Bates and Betty Shelby have disgraced the uniforms they wear, and their heinous crime is on public display for all the world to see. One can only hope they will be brought to swift and sure justice!

There are millions of eyewitness to their savage act!

But that is no consolation to the family of Mr. Crutcher!

All they can do is weep, and all we can do is pray and hope this will be the last time.

Sadly, it seems  like a faint hope and a flimsy prayer.

 

Return to Friedrichsstadt

With great excitement, we return to the northern German city of Friedrichsstadt. Last year I had the privilege of conducting the first Jewish service in that city since 1938, a fact verified by the head of the Jewish Cultural Center there, Frau Christiane Thomsen and several others.

Since then, to my joy there have been several Jewish cultural events in that city including the Bat Mitzvah ceremony of Laura Wendt a young woman from Denmark, in a service led by my colleague, Rabiner Dr. Walter Rothschild.

Much credit for the “heavy lifting” in Friedrichsstadt as far as replanting Jewish life goes belongs to Horst (Ephraim) and Rita (Devorah) Blunk.

I had the privilege of making their acquaintance for the first time in 2014 during adult education sessions and services that I conducted with Walter Joshua Pannbacker in Kiel, a full hour away from their home. The desire of Horst and Rita–and the activity that inspires that desire–to revitalize Jewish life in their home region inspire me.

Without question the experience last year of conducting the first Jewish service there since Kristallnacht was a great thrill. It was even more gratifying to lead prayer in the Friedrichsstadt synagogue because it had been commandeered and turned into a headquarters for Nazi officers after November 9, 1938.

The experience reminded me of a recollection shared in a talk to us students by the then Dean of the California branch of the Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion by the late Rabbi Dr. Alfred Gottschalk (who went on to become President of the entire four-campus College-Institute). Gottschalk recalled a trip he took to Rome and his feeling as he stood beneath the famous Arch of Titus. In the arch is an inscription from the year 70 C.E., “Judaea capta.” Judaea is captured, and by implication, Judaism is no more. Gottschalk related how he looked up with pride at that inscription, and proclaimed, “Here I am Titus! Where are you and your empire now?”

During our worship in Friedrichsstadt last year, I remembered Gottschalk’s words, and I said to myself, “Here we are, Hitler. Where are you and your empire now?”

Because of all the Jewish cultural activity that takes place in Friedrichsstadt now, this year’s service will not have the same novel, first time since Kristallnacht feeling that last year’s did.

But that is a good thing!

My goal is not to be the first in a generation to represent Jewish life in different places in Germany. My goal is for Progressive Jewish life to become a regular, vibrant and contributing part of German culture once again. My second opportunity to lead worship in Friedrichsstadt feels like a small but meaningful step toward that precious goal.

En Route

For the third year Vickie and I are en route to Germany to lead worship for the Days of awe, to teach two seminars at Geiger College, to teach high school students about the Shoah, and to speak in churches and synagogues. It is a great privilege for us to do our tiny part to help replant Jewish life where Hitler ravaged it with smoke fire and gas.

And yet–

Some say, “You are wasting your time! Do you really think you make a difference?”

I cannot be sure, but I believe it is the effort that counts. We all have a choice. We can use whatever talents we have to make the world a bit more caring and compassionate, or we can throw up our hands in despair and say,”It doesn’t do any good, so why bother?”

 The scoffers remind me of a story I first heard nearly 40 years ago when Rabbi David Saperstein told it to my congregation in Columbia, Maryland toward the end of his sermon.

Once a man went every day to the wicked city of Sodom urging the people to repent. His friends mocked him and called him a fool. “Don’t you know,” they sneered, “that those wicked people will never change and become like you?”

“Perhaps,” the man allowed, “they will not change and become like me. But I will continue to bring them my message so that, God forbid, I do not change and become like them.”

And so we set out for Germany with hope and with joy. We know we cannot undo the past, but the future is ours to shape, and I am convinced that the German people want it to be better than the past. We cannot know if we shall make a difference, but we shall do our best and pray that God will bless our efforts.

If Lives REALLY Matter, Then,

Elul is the last month of the Jewish year, and it is a time we Jews pay particular attention to reviewing our actions of the past year and resolving to do better in the year ahead. But self-reflection and a close examination of our values and priorities is good for all of us, all the time.

During Elul the College and ProfessionalConcussion Season began.

And so–

I offer this prayer:

Eternal One,

Be with all of those who–serving at the altar of the American religion of football–will suffer brain-addling injuries that will shorten their lives, thwart their ability to think, spawn depression, lead some to suicide, and make pain their constant companion.

When the Jewish New Year arrives, many of us will hear in our synagogues the biblical story of the Binding of Isaac.

Its lesson is not that God was unfair to ask such a thing of the one with whom God covenanted to make a more just caring and compassionate society.


And it is not that Abraham failed the test.

No, “They went together…” (Genesis 22:6 and 8) the Eternal One, Abraham and Isaac to Mount Moriah and back to teach us once and for all that God abhors and categorically rejects human sacrifice.


Well we know that humanity–though created “In the image of God,” (Genesis 1:26,27) has not learned the lesson! 


Those of us who feel called—whether we are Jewish Christian, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, another religion or atheist–to live, teach and encourage others to make this world the best place we possibly can might urge our society to do better!

—Will we abhor and turn away from the death dealing gladiatorial spectacle of big time football?

—Will we have the courage to speak out against this multi billion dollar industry?

—Or will we “stand idly by the blood of our neighbors,” (Leviticus 19:16) or worse, join the chorus of sis boom bahs watching and cheering the carnage in the arena or in front of our TVs, ignoring our own assertions that Black lives matter, White lives matter, Hispanic lives matter–indeed that all lives matter, and none is acceptable as a sacrifice for our entertainment.

The Bible’s Great Contradiction, And what It Teaches Us

 

In Deuteronomy 15:4 we read one of the most categorical words in the Bible: אפס efes as in zero, none, bubkas, nada, not a single one. “There shall be efes needy among you …”

But just a few sentences later (Deuteronomy 15:11) we read, “The poor shall never cease to be in the land.”

How can the Torah say one thing and seven sentences later say the complete opposite?

The resolution to this “Great Contradiction” lies in the conditional nature of our Covenant with God.

The Covenant has always been conditional.

 When our people began, God promised Abraham and us protection, children, permanence as a people and the and of Israel on condition that we be a blessing to others (Genesis 12:2), follow God’s teachings (Genesis 17:1), and practice and teach our children to fill the world with, “tzedakah u’mishpat, righteousness and justice.”

Those are still the terms!

 “There will be no poor or needy” if and only if all people are giving, caring, sensitive to the needs of others and generous. But since that is not likely to happen, we who take our covenantal obligation seriously must be aware of and ready to open our hearts and our hands to the poor and needy.

It goes back to the essential question Cain Asked God:

Am I my brother’s keeper?” (Genesis 4:9)

God’s answer to us is the same as to Cain: “Your brother’s blood cries out to me…” (Genesis 4:10 -11)

Hopefully we hear and respond to those plaintive cries today: Until we become our brothers’ and sisters’ keeper, the just caring and compassionate society that God called us to create will never to be more than a wistful hope.

 

 

What About Those Biblical Commands to Destroy Other Nations?

 

My understanding of Torah commands me to distance myself from fanaticism of any stripe.

And yet the Torah tells us to “completely destroy” the Canaanite nations. “Your eye shall have no pity upon them! (Deuteronomy 7:1-16)”

Passages like this are an embarrassment. They give ammunition to anti-Semites who claim that the God of the Hebrew Bible is a God of vengeance and violence.

Why then do these passages appear in our Bible?

They teach us to have zero tolerance for the social and religious practices of the ancient pagan world that included orgiastic rites and the horror of human sacrifice.

It was not an easy sell!

The Torah reminds us that when was Moses gone a bit too long on Mount Sinai the Israelites demanded Aaron make them a Golden Calf to worship. (Deuteronomy 9:9ff)

These “embarrassing” passages are the Bible’s way to teach that God makes a Covenant with us. God demands that we administer justice fairly, have special regard for the poor, the orphan and the widow, and treat the stranger with dignity and respect.

Only by doing these things do we glorify God.

Only by doing these things do we become “the light of nations (Isaiah 49:6),” the example God wants us to be for the entire world.

But there are still forces of evil that we must destroy.

Terrorist groups, vicious drug cartels, traffickers in human slavery and their ilk around the world demonstrate by their actions that fundamental human values mean nothing to them. These are the modern antecedents of the nations God commanded us not to pity. It becomes the duty of civilized humanity to destroy them

No, God does not want us to wipe out people because they are different. But God emphatically demands that the forces of good rise up to root out the forces of raw evil that enslave so many.