WHEN HINENI’S CONFLICT
I first started thinking about “this” particular sermon on June 25, 2013, an important day in the history of the 21st Century. Does anybody know what happened that day? It was the day the US Supreme Court struck down Proposition 8. The court proclaimed that the Defense of Marriage Act violated the constitutional rights of same sex couples to “liberty, equality, and equal dignity.” Let me repeat that last phrase “equal dignity.”
That phrase took me back to December of 2006, when the Conservative movement officially approved the Dorff-Nevins responsum on homosexuality, utilizing a similar expression in Hebrew, K’vod Habriot, which means the dignity of all creatures. This responsum allowed for openly gay individuals to be accepted by Conservative rabbinical schools, officially allowed rabbis to perform same sex ceremonies, and was a ruling which, as the responsum itself said: “effectively normalizes the status of gay and lesbian Jews are to be welcomed into our synagogues and other institutions as full members with no restrictions.” I devoted about 45 minutes’ worth of Shabbat sermon to parse it out, filled with all kinds of halachic intricacies. There are a lot details in that responsum that I don’t have 45 minutes to go over today, but the crux of the responsum was that sometimes commandments or mitzvoth conflict with each other, and you have to make a ruling for one or the other. Here you have the negative mitzvoth in Leviticus 18 and 20 which forbid homosexuality (or at least one type of homosexual act) conflicting with the Talmudic principle called “k’vod habriot,” which means honoring the dignity of all human beings. If forced to choose, the responsum says you have to choose the dignity of all human beings. The Talmud itself, in tractate Megila says that “so great is human dignity that it supersedes a negative commandment of the Torah.” The responsum then goes through several examples in rabbinic literature where rabbinic sages violate various commandments in order to preserve the dignity of another person, be it a poor person, a fellow sage, or even a king, as in one case.
After going through 45 minutes of explaining all that, I found myself, unsurprisingly, with a long line of people wanting to share their thoughts with me on the subject. I was in a conversation with a younger woman in the congregation who was a lesbian, when an older member interrupted us and said: “But Rabbi, if we let the gays in, how are we going to keep the Jewish people going with Jewish children?” I responded that that really wasn’t a valid argument, since gay couples can have children, and a lesbian couple could theoretically have two children a year! The woman I was talking to told the long-time member, “don’t worry, I plan to have lots of children.” The long-time member, incredulous, said, “but you’re not a lesbian?” And the younger woman said, “yes I am, and there’s my partner right over there.” Have you ever seen those Southwest commercials with similarly embarrassing situations and the line “wanna get away?” Well, that was me at that moment. Wouldn’t you know it, but at that moment, another long time member grabbed me and said, “Rabbi, I need to talk to you right away!” What this other person wanted to talk to me about was so relatively unimportant that I don’t remember it, and she swears she had no idea that she had interrupted a situation where I needed to be saved, but Baruch Hashem, God works in mysterious ways. The long-time member and the younger lesbian woman continued to converse, so a dialogue had begun. But I was still thankful to be pulled away right then. There’s at least one postscript to the story, but I’m not going to share it with you just yet.
We can laugh at that story or be offended by it, but if we’re honest with ourselves, most of us would have to admit that our thinking on this issue has evolved quite a bit over the years. I know it certainly has for me. We started in June of 2013, then went to December, 2006, and now we’re going to jump back into the time machine to circa 1982, at a BBYO sleepover, and I’m remembering the first time a friend of mine came out of the closet and told me he was gay. I am still somewhat ashamed of my reaction. But it’s Yom Kippur, the time for confession, so with some hesitation I want to share it with you (and, not to worry, I have his permission). My first response to his telling me he was gay was “are you sure? Maybe you’re just experimenting.” Almost every gay person will tell you they have experienced such a reaction. As I remember it, I spent the better part of the next two hours trying to convince him that he might not actually be gay. It didn’t make him any less of a friend to me, I assured him, but it took a few weeks or months for me to fully accept the sexual orientation of one of my best friends. There’s a postscript to this story, which I’m also not going to share with you just yet.
Let’s go back further into the time machine to 1973, just a decade before the BBYO sleepover, to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and look at the Reform movement’s official responsum written by Solomon Freehof, Senior Rabbi of Rodeph Shalom in Pittsburgh. Remember that this is the Reform movement, the most liberal of the denominations, especially at that time.
To sum up: Homosexuality is deemed in Jewish tradition to be a sin–not only in law, but in Jewish life practice…It is hardly worth mentioning that to officiate at a so-called “marriage” and to describe their mode of life as “Kiddushin” (sacred) is a contravention of all that is respected in Jewish life.
It’s hard to imagine that this was the Reform position not so long ago. Well, maybe 40 years ago is a long time ago, but it doesn’t seem like such a long time ago to me anymore.
Now we get back into the time machine again and jump forward to last year, 2012, right here in this sanctuary, with me proudly officiating at my first same sex ceremony. I can tell you that not only did it feel Kiddushin, sacred and holy, but it felt shockingly normal, no different than any other traditional wedding ceremony I’ve ever done. Except that it had no legal standing, so I got to do the actual wedding a year later in my office when it became legal, so mazel tov once again to Li and Aimee.
And now we get back in the time machine again and we arrive to here and now, and to why I am talking about this issue on Yom Kippur of all days. The reason is that later this afternoon as part of the Mincha service we will read the very passage from Leviticus which seems to forbid homosexuality, at least between males. When I first arrived here we read the alternative passage from Leviticus 19, the very easy on the ears “You shall be holy for, I Adonai your God, am holy,” which then talks about the “nice” mitzvoth like leaving the corner of the field for the poor and not placing a stumbling block before the blind, and loving your neighbor as yourself. Yes, we love this part of Torah, because it reflects so positively on the Jewish people, but just a few years later, I changed us back to doing the traditional reading, which is Leviticus 18. Leviticus 18 is also a holiness code, a sexual holiness code, where it puts homosexuality on par with other sexual prohibitions, including incest, bestiality, and having sex during a woman’s period (funny how you never see state wide propositions about that one or signs saying “God hates it when couples have sex during a woman’s period!”). And it includes the line “v’et zachar lo tishkav mish’k’vei isha, a man should not lie with another man as one lies with a woman, for it is a to’eva, an abomination.” I am not going to get into the details of why this sentence may explicitly forbid only one type of homosexual act, but it’s clearly not an lgbt friendly text. So why did I switch us back? Because I believe our tradition demands that we struggle with even the most difficult and painful of our sacred texts.
And as I was thinking about the overall theme of Hineni (you didn’t think I would forget about the theme, did you?), which literally means here I am but really means being present for others within the context of relationships, I noticed that there was an essay in the back of the Norman Cohen book Hineni in Our Lives that I keep quoting from, that connected these seemingly disparate ideas—Hineni, Here I am, homosexuality, and Leviticus 18 which we will read from this afternoon. And the essay was written by none other than the great Rabbi Harold Schulweis. For those of you who don’t know who that is, Rabbi Schulweis was the iconic rabbi of Temple Beth Abraham from 1953-1970 until he left for Valley Beth Shalom in Encino. He was a captivating speaker, a great scholar, a civil rights activist in the sixties right here in Oakland, and is really one of the rabbinical giants of his generation. Well now we jump back in the time machine to his office, where a painful story about this very subject took place. Whether this happened in Oakland in the sixties or in Encino some time later he doesn’t say. A woman entered his office with a large Bible in her hand, sat down in a chair across his desk, and pointed to the passage in Leviticus 18. She read the passage aloud, and asked him, “Rabbi, tell me, is this right? Do you yourself believe this? Is my son an abomination?” She then went on to tell the rabbi about how her son had been taunted and teased all his life, had been through what they called “reparative” therapy, lived a tortured life, and eventually, took his own life. She looked Rabbi Schulweis in the eye and said: “You knew my son, Rabbi. Was he an abomination?” Schulweis writes:
What did she want from me—exoneration, consolation? Neither. She wanted to know my rabbinic stance—where I stand as a rabbi and what I stand for on this issue. She wanted my hineni response to her cry. She wanted a rejection of the condemnatory mandate in Leviticus. She left the room sobbing and me in confusion. I was caught between the voice of an anguished mother and the verse of a sacred book. Both voices had claims on me. To whose voice should I respond? Can you answer hineni. to two contradictory imperatives?
Utilizing the Akeidah story as a paradigm, he talks about how Abraham’s first hineni in the story represents Abraham’s response of faith and obedience to God. The second hineni, when he responds to the angel who calls him twice to prevent him from bringing the knife to his own son, represents the Hineni of religious conscience, equally connected to God and to faith. When forced to choose, Abraham chooses the Hineni of conscience, and so, too, according to Schulweis, should we. He then talks about how religious conscience more than once moved the rabbinic tradition to circumvent or even nullify the plain meaning of the Torah text. He cites examples such as the laws of the rebellious son from Deuteronomy 21 and the ordeal of the Sotah, the wife suspected of adultery in Numbers 5, as texts which the oral tradition essentially overruled. This has to be one of them too, he argues.
Inevitably in discussions like this someone will bring up the slippery slope argument. Once you start working around the obvious meaning of the text, where does it end? But, as a moderate person, I have never fully accepted that argument. All of us, Reform, Conservative, and Orthodox lie somewhere along that slope, and our sacred Jewish task is to struggle with that slope, using our heads and our hearts, our intellectual gifts and our moral consciences. We can’t be slaves either to the literal meaning of the text or to the prevailing fickle winds of contemporary thinking. Both have to be considered. Sometimes political correctness can go too far. Even on this particular issue I must confess that I sometimes find the language which surrounds it completely perplexing. A few years ago I could say gay and lesbian. Then an acronym developed, LGBT, which stands for for lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender. The latest acronym is lgbtqiq, which apparently adds queer, intersex, and questioning to the first four. Soon, I might have to learn a whole new alphabet just to talk about the issue safely. I find this to be political correctness at its worst. Then again, maybe I just haven’t evolved enough yet on this issue.
But sometimes the text can be too narrow, as in the case of Leviticus 18, where it violates our religious conscience and the dignity of actual human beings. As a rabbi who believes that the Torah and the Talmud are actually the word of God in some way, shape, or form, for me the text gets the benefit of the doubt, the extra weight in the equation. But it doesn’t weigh so much that the continuously evolving conscience of Jewish thought can’t give it some balance. We should be Hineni for the commandments of the Torah, but being Hineni for human beings is part of living the commandments of Torah.
A final thought and the postscripts to the stories I told earlier. For those who disagree with me, even vehemently, and disagree that Torah text can be stretched this way or who are not able to accept that Judaism accepts LGBT or homosexual relationships on par with heterosexual relationships, expressing my Jewish interpretation on the subject should not be interpreted to mean that you are not welcome here with your very different views on these subjects. First, this is a Jewish community, since when do we have to agree on everything? However, I want to point out that the varied individual opinions of our members and what gets said from the pulpit or gets taught in religious school are two very different things. Whether we’re talking about halacha, Israel, or sexual preference, it’s part of the rabbi’s prerogative, in consultation with the Board of Directors, to determine what gets expressed from the bima, either by myself or by invited guests, with all the privilege and tzuris that comes with that. If you know me at all you knot that it’s a responsibility I take very seriously and with the utmost caution. But I want to reiterate that everyone is welcome here, whatever your opinion on a variety of subjects.
Now, on to the story postscripts. The friend who came out of the closet to me when I was a teenager back in 1982? I saw him recently at a Bar Mitzvah and we recounted the story. We remembered the conversation very differently. My perception of the conversation was that I was trying to convince him that he wasn’t gay. All he did was thank me for being there for him in such a difficult time. He didn’t remember the words I said which I wish I could take back—only that I was there for him, hineni. This teaches us a few things. First, memory is a funny thing. Secondly, teenagers don’t listen to each other very well. But most importantly, it teaches us that whatever stupid words might happen to come out of our mouths are far less important than hineni, being there for someone.
As for the service where I nervously introduced the Conservative responsum on homosexuality back in 2006? That was the first Shabbat service for one of our future members, and he liked it so much that he came back—again and again and again. He was so hineni, in fact, that we invited him to be on the Board of Directors and now is the President of our congregation, one of the first openly gay men to serve as President of a Conservative congregation. As we read Leviticus 18 later today, may we continue to struggle even with our most difficult texts, remembering that we should always be guided by our religious consciences and the dignity of all human beings.
PREPARING THE ROAD FOR HINENI—AND THE ROAD GOES THROUGH INDIA
“Solu solu panu derech,” I kept chanting to myself like a mantra as I carried load after load of bricks or shoveled dirt or used the giant tamper to level the ground as part of our effort to restore parts of a school at the obscure farming village of Bacari Pura in Northeastern India just outside of the city of Lucknow. “Solu solu panu derech” means, “build up, build up the highway, clear the road,” and it is the first line of the Haftarah we will read tomorrow from Isaiah 57. Isaiah probably didn’t mean those words literally; he was more likely preparing for a spiritual highway, but it sure seemed to fit the occasion of 17 rabbis laying bricks, mixing cement, and applying plaster. Meanwhile, against the background of my “solu solu” I kept hearing the foreman from the village shouting “masala, masala, mix, mix,” referring to the crude version of concrete our group was attempting to mix, made up of part actual cement, part water, part red dirt, and part gray gravel. There was no particular recipe for this mixture. We just made whatever consistency the foreman seemed to like. Some of you may have seen the pictures of me in my ridiculous straw hat, hospital scrubs, and work boots. If you haven’t, check the TBA Facebook page. If you have, well, it looked even more ridiculous than the pictures indicate.
The work was hard enough, more fun than you might think, but the work was not the hardest part. The hardest part? Probably the humidity. Our room had a swamp cooler, which blows water through a fan for a cooling effect, instead of an air conditioner. These things work well in desert environments like the Negev or Arizona. But in a humid environment like India, it was just releasing more humidity into the room. “How humid was it?” you ask. It was so humid that I had to put baby powder all over my body so I wouldn’t stick to myself. “How humid was it?” you ask. It was so humid that when I washed my clothes (and they told us to pack as lightly as possible so I only had a few changes of clothes), they never dried. They just sort of turned moldy. Or maybe it was the food. I don’t do spicy, and, well, this was India. I tried just about every dish the first few days, but they all burned my throat. So, thanks to Steve Grossman and CliffBar, I subsisted on Mojo Bars from Cliff and Peanut Butter. Until the last day when the staff prepared a special banquet for us made up of food from their home kitchens. And they knew I didn’t eat spicy food, so they made a number of dishes just for me. And since they made it for my sake I had to eat it in front of them. Sure enough, I got sick—just in time for the 46 hour journey home. I am not exaggerating that, by the way. It really was 46 hours from door to door. But enough complaining. I’m good at it, but we have much more important things to discuss this evening.
So what was I doing in the mitten drinnen of India in the heat of late July helping to build a school in a village when our custodian, Joe Lewis, would have been far more qualified for the job? I was part of a rabbinic cohort of the American Jewish World Service sent there, yes, to work on the school in the farming village, but also to study Jewish texts relating to global justice and to meet with what could best be described as the mitzvah heroes of India, individuals who are doing amazing things there in terms of human rights and global justice. Much to my chagrin, we did not meet any of the amazing Jewish communities of India during our visit there, not the Cochini Jews or the B’nai Menashe or the B’nai Israel, whose Jewish communities go back for centuries. Nor did we see any of the great Hindu sites of India or the bustling metropolis’ of Mumbai or Delhi and certainly not the Taj Mahal. Next time. But the mission of the American Jewish World Service is not to tour, certainly, and it’s not even to focus on helping Jewish communities in need. Rather, the mission of the American Jewish World Service is, as they themselves put it, and now I’m quoting: “Inspired by the Jewish commitment to justice, American Jewish World Service works to realize human rights and end poverty in the developing world.” To achieve these goals, they partner with organizations in these developing countries that are already doing poverty and human rights work. They are not helping other Jews. They are utilizing Jewish values to help the broader world.
Our trip was divided into two parts. In the morning we worked in the village building the school, and in the afternoons we sat in classrooms studying texts and meeting with some of these “mitzvah heroes.”
We met a woman named Renu, a lawyer who focuses on women’s rights and takes up cases that no one will take for women who have been abused by their husbands or denied access to education or harassed in the work place. India has many well-intentioned laws on its books, but enforcing them is another matter. For instance, you are not allowed to get married until you are 18 years old in India, but girls are routinely married off at 12 or 13. Whether the cause of this is deeply entrenched cultural values, bureaucratic corruption on a scale we can barely conceive of, or sheer numbers (it is, after all, a land of a billion people), this kind of women’s rights work is overwhelmingly necessary.
We met another amazing woman named Kavita, who belongs to the lowest caste in India, the Dalit, known as the “untouchables,” and that was probably the least of her struggles. Her parents pulled her out of school after first grade, but she ran away from home in order to find a school where she could learn. Despite family opposition, Kavita attended an education center in her village but was married off at a very young age. Nevertheless, she was able to negotiate her relationship with her husband and in-laws and managed to continue her education, eventually receiving a master’s degree in political science. She now edits a weekly newspaper that is actually the only newspaper specifically covering six rural districts in two different states. Her staff is made up entirely of other Dalit or “untouchable” caste women, and she highlights the concerns of the poor and on cases of violence against women.
These are but two examples of the kinds of work being done by the American Jewish World Service’s partners in India, and they work in 18 other countries in the developing world as well.
Still, it was hard to sit in a classroom, on the floor, no less, and listen to speakers all day. So the most interesting part of the trip was probably the work we did in the village. Let’s be honest. We were not doing high quality work. Two village men could probably have accomplished in five hours what we accomplished in five days. Moreover, with our limited skills in bricklaying and cement mixing, I’m not 100% sure they didn’t just tear down our work the minute we left and start all over again. Honestly, I think the work was more for us than for them, to get us invested in the program, the project, and the people, and certainly, the most interesting and rewarding part to me was the work in the village.
Their village is certainly poor by our standards. It’s not Slumdog Millionaire poor. We didn’t see so much of that, since that depicts the poverty of the urban centers, not the rural areas. But there is no electricity or plumbing and is certainly poor by any of our standards. Still, their basic needs of food, shelter, and clothing are met, and they manage also to have leisure time and to raise cash crops of wheat, rice, and peppermint. The children are educated in their simple school through 12th grade, and they wear adorable British style uniforms provided by the government with these cute little ties. When we arrived we were greeted by the children of the school, who sang us several songs. One that stood out for me had a line in it about how it was important to be like running waters that flowed rather than like still waters which never move. In a land filled with standing water and malaria causing mosquitoes, it made perfect sense. The girls in the village especially lopped on to the female rabbis in our group, treating them as new aunts, in a way, holding their hands, and showing them things and saying “it’s beautiful, it’s beautiful?” I remember two of the girls, because they had Israeli sounding names—Goldie and Sivani. They began to show us their homes, which were essentially one wall with a roof made of straw and open to their neighbors on two or three sides, making our group of rabbis think of Sarah and Abraham and the hospitality they showed to the three angels in Genesis. In fact, with their tents and their water buffalos, cows, and goats all around them, I imagine these villagers lived far closer to the lives of our Biblical ancestors than we do in most respects. More on that in just a little bit.
Toward the end of our work there, we had a chance to meet in separate gender circles with the women and men of the village. We asked each other a series of questions. We compared holidays, Jewish and Hindu, and talked about what it meant to be a man in each of our societies, They wanted to know whether we were primarily a wheat people or a rice people, and they wanted to know about Jewish holidays. But the question that really stood out was “after you get married, do you go to live with the husband’s family or the wife’s family?” In their part of India it was the custom to move to the husband’s family’s village. When we explained that we move in together into our own homes separately from our parents, they were puzzled. Their followup question was: “Then who takes care of the parents when they get older?” It was a piercing question that I don’t think American society has really solved. The East Bay Jewish Federation has begun to deal with this issue and is presenting a series of seminars on this topic, dealing with our own aging issue in the Jewish community right here. But clearly, we have as much to learn from them as they do from us, maybe even more.
So that is “how I spent my summer, part 13.” And while that is all well and good, I imagine at least some of you thinking, it’s nice that the rabbi went on a Jewish-“ish” trip to India and that the congregation didn’t have to pay for it, but “what’s the point, rabbi?” Where is the Hineni, here I am moment in tonight’s sermon? You didn’t think I’d forget about the central theme, did you? What is the takeaway for us?
I’ll get to the Hineni in just a moment, but first a few lessons that I learned for myself. The first is a lesson in gratitude. When you spend time in the developing world it’s hard not to be overwhelmed with how much we have and take for granted. We should express our thanks for what we have more regularly, and I began to think about that in the context of the Unetaneh Tokef prayer we read on both Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. That is the prayer where it says: “On Rosh Hashana it is written and on Yom Kippur it is sealed, who shall live and who shall die, who by fire and who by water, who by sword and who by beast, who by famine and who by thirst… but teshuva, tefila, and tzedaka can temper the severity of the decree.” This poem can be difficult to relate to in the modern world, but the rabbinic sages who wrote this poem probably lived lives much closer to the life of the Indian villagers than they did to ours. So these metaphors made sense. They dealt/deal with floods and famines and wild animals which had the potential to wipe out entire villages. So the way the sages dealt with it was to acknowledge that sometimes these tragedies happen and “there but for the grace of God go I.” And should they happen in our lives, let’s try to mitigate these things with teshuva, tefila, tzedaka, repentance, prayer, and charity. So it provided me with an entirely new understanding of this prayer.
The second is a lesson in universal connection. One of the really neat things about the trip was spending the Shabbat there with all those other rabbis. With that kind of knowledge, and an unusual amount of pleasant singing voices, the ruach in the room during the services was phenomenal. Earlier in the service, a tall Indian woman in a beautiful, flowing sari had wandered into our service and sat down. Most of the Indian people we met were rather small, so small in fact, that I could even find shoes in my size there. Anyway, this was a woman who was both part of the lowest caste, Dalit, and who had been abused by her husband. SSK, the place we were staying, was part human rights organization headquarters, part battered women’s shelter, and part youth hostel, and they took her in and gave her some work as part of the custodial staff. During the Torah service, as we were singing and dancing our way around the hot room, this woman stood up and joined in on the dancing with her arms flowing and her spirit soaring right up to the Heavens, it seemed. It was a spiritual moment that transcended our different religions and cultures, and was simply transcendent in general. Sadly, for several days after Shabbat, when we were sitting in discussions, she peeked her head in our room and asked “singing today?” Unfortunately, we were not, but for that one moment, you could sense the joy and the excitement and the spirituality that links all humanity together.
The third and final lesson is about our relationship to the wider world. The AJWS focuses on the Jewish response to the wider world. We often need a reminder that there is a broader universe that needs our help, though I don’t think that’s our primary problem here in the Bay Area. The Jewish community of Northern California doesn’t need a lot of reminders about our universal obligations, for they/we seem to be more universalistic in our thinking and increasingly less particularistic. An extreme example of this is the City of Berkeley passing all kinds of resolutions about global problems and doing seemingly very little about their own homeless population problem. Judaism has a point-of-view on this when these natural impulses conflict. There’s a Talmud text from Bava Metzia 71a where Rabbi Yosef brings forth a teaching based on Exodus 22:24, where it says, “If you lend money to any of my people that are poor with you.” According to Rabbi Yosef:
This teaches that if the choice lies between a Jew and a non-Jew, the Jew has preference; the poor or the rich, the poor takes precedence; your poor (meaning your relatives) and the general poor, your poor take precedence; the poor of your city and the poor of another town the poor of your city takes precedence.
This is a complicated way of saying charity begins at home. This seems natural, but it is not necessarily a lesson our children are processing. I recently discovered that, in our religious school, almost all the classes were voting to send their tzedaka money to general causes rather than Jewish causes. That will actually change this year, because we are making it a requirement that each class donate at least half of their money to Jewish causes. As individuals when you consider your own charitable giving as well as where you put your time and energy and even prayers, ideally we touch on our local Jewish community, meaning our congregation, the bigger Jewish community such as the Federation, which distributes money to Jewish organizations and people in need, including in Israel, and, finally the many worthy causes of the wider world. Maybe I’m a dinasour in this regard, but I believe that only Jews will take care of the Jewish people and that only Oaklanders are going to take care of Oakland. .
So while the trip was supposed to inspire us to think about global justice, what it actually inspired in me was the idea that we need to do more for the local community right here in the city of Oakland. We do a great job with hunger here, giving more money than any almost any other congregations to the Alameda County Food Bank and at all times of the year. But, with the idea of thinking globally but acting locally what I hope we can also do this year is take one of these global issues where there is a compelling Jewish imperative and figure out how we can become more involved on a local level. I’d like to start with the issue of human trafficking, which is not only consistent with the Jewish command to remember that we ourselves were slaves in the land of Egypt, but as it turns out, is a very serious issue here in Oakland. We’ll start out with some text study, then do an educational session about what is happening regarding trafficking here in Oakland, and, hopefully, from there will emerge specific actions that we as a congregation can take. While the India trip was ideally meant to inspire us to become involved in global justice, what it inspired in me was that I/we need to be more involved in issues of local justice.
I began my remarks tonight with the beginning of the Haftarah, solu solu panu derech, build up a highway, clear a road. But the heart of the Haftarah which we will read tomorrow, just as we are beginning to feel the pangs of hunger from our fasting, is when Isaiah asks: .
Is this the fast I desire,
A day for men to starve their bodies?
Is it bowing the head like a bulrush
And lying in sackcloth and ashes?
No, this is the fast I desire:
To unlock the fetters of wickedness,
To let the oppressed go free;
To break off every yoke.
When you see the naked, clothe him
Then the text tells us, when we do these things God will say “Hineni,” here I am, for you, the people. It is the only instance amongst the Hineni’s in the Torah where God is the one who says “Here I am.” When we say Hineni for other people, God says Hineni for us. And partnering with God we can then declare, “solu solu panu derech, build up, build up a highway, clear a road, in India and in Oakland, a road that, God willing, will be filled with justice and peace.
HINENI—HEARING THE CALL
I have a vivid memory of a meeting in Jerusalem during my first year of rabbinical school with a group of young men studying to be Priests. We actually met in a bar. I know it sounds like the opening to a bad joke, but it’s true. A group of student rabbis and a group of student priests walk into a bar. What comes out? A Jewish-Catholic dialogue group. At the first meeting we asked the future Priests about the celibacy requirement and agreed that their jobs certainly demanded much more sacrifice than ours. But what I remember most was when one of the Priests-to-be asked all of us to go around the room and describe the moment of our “calling.” The student Priests nodded their heads in understanding and agreement, while the the rabbinical students looked at one another with an expression that meant “what on God’s earth is he talking about?” One of us naively asked, “specifically what do you mean by a calling?” He replied something to the effect of: “You know, the moment where God spoke to you and you knew you were called to serve Him.” This represented one of the only times in Jewish history where an entire group of rabbis was rendered speechless. He then shared with us his moment of calling in a hospital room as his Aunt lay dying from a fatal automobile accident. Another shared his calling when he was literally on the top of a mountain, and another heard God speak to him in the pews of his church at 16 years old.
Most of us rabbinical students had never thought about our future jobs this way, much less God. My Jewish friends would never ask me “how or when I was called” but rather, “why did you decide to become a rabbi.” I would talk about how I loved Judaism, became active as a teen in BBYO, tried my hand in the business world, and decided this job would be more meaningful. As a career it combined so many of the things I like to do: teach, preach, counsel, work with people of all different ages, serve others, and, most importantly, be there for others during the most significant times in their lives. It was a thoughtful, rational career decision to become a rabbi, and, in seeming contrast to my future Catholic colleagues, there was no mountaintop, hospital bed, or epiphany in the pews of Peninsula Temple Beth El in San Mateo. But I admired these men immensely for both their faith and candor, and from that meeting on, I was fascinated by this idea of the call. It turns out that I did have a few of those moments; I just didn’t recognize them at the time. I’ll share some of that in a few moments, but the point is that it can be very difficult to recognize the “call” when your mind is not open or ready for it.
Returning to the theme I introduced last night, hineni, which literally means “here I am,” today we’re going to look at a Biblical story where the Biblical prophet, Samuel, has a great deal of trouble recognizing his “call” from God and therefore has equal difficulty in responding “hineni.” To briefly review this idea of Hineni, which I spoke about last night, the idea of hineni will be a theme that connects all my High Holiday sermons this year, According to a book on the subject called Hineini in Our Lives by Dr. Rabbi Norman Cohen, to whom I am indebted for much of my High Holiday material this year, hineni represents “the ability to respond to the other within relationships.” It means “here I am, present and available for you.” Today, we’re going to talk about being hineni for God in the context of the call of Samuel.
Today’s Haftarah portion is the prequel to the story of Samuel. It’s about Samuel’s Mother Hannah praying so fervently for a son the Priest thinks she’s drunk. If God will only grant her the gift of this child, she promises to dedicate him to Adonai and the Priesthood at Shiloh for all his days. It covers Chapters 1 and 2 of the Book of First Samuel. In Chapter 3 the story picks up with the call of Samuel, where the book says that “in those days the word of Adonai was rare; prophecy was not widespread.” Samuel was sleeping in the Temple there when God calls out to him. Except he doesn’t think it’s God who is calling him. Why would he? He’s never heard God’s voice before, and he’s just a lowly servant. Why would God reach out to him? He hears the voice and responds “ineni,” but he thinks it’s his boss, the High Priest Eli, who is calling him. So he wakes him up in the middle of the night and says, “hineni, here I am, you called me.” Eli’s response is: “I didn’t call you; now go back to sleep.” This happens a second and third time, and by the third time Eli realizes what is happening, that it is Adonai that is calling Samuel. So Eli advises Samuel: “Go lie down. If you are called again, say, ‘Speak, Adonai, for Your servant is listening.’” So he does as Eli asks and lies down. God calls to him not once but twice, “Shmuel, Shmuel,” evoking the Akeidah story of tomorrow where the angel calls off Avraham from sacrificing his son with “Avraham, Avraham.” And Shmuel responds “Speak, for Your servant is listening.” Samuel then goes on to become Prophet, Judge, and leader of the Jewish people.
What are we meant to learn from the story about the difficulties of discerning the call?
Lesson #1. As it says in a television commercial from a few years ago for Pepsi Maxx that my kids used to repeat incessantly, “wake up, peoples!” It is no coincidence that the call happens to Samuel while he’s asleep and that it takes three attempts and that his name has to be called twice; he’s emblematic of most of us. We’re asleep, my friends, and we’ve got to wake up. We are often so caught up in the day-to-day demands of life that it becomes almost impossible to be open to the needs of other people, let alone to the experience of God. At times we need to be jarred out of our comfortable places, where we may feel safe, but oblivious to all that surrounds us. What will it take to wake us from our slumber? Sometimes, it takes a traumatic event such as an illness or a death to make us pay attention, sometimes a natural disaster like a hurricane or an earthquake, or a fire in Yosemite. But it shouldn’t have to be that complicated. It should be as simple as hearing the sound of the shofar. May this Rosh Hashana be the first of the many wake up calls we need, whether we’re talking about other people or God .
Lesson #2. I believe on a very deep level that when we are hineni” there and present, for other human beings, God becomes hineni for us. In the story, when Samuel comes to Eli the second time and Eli sees how reticent he is, Eli affectionately calls him “b’ni,” my son. The commentator Abravenel points out that in this gentle and loving way, though Samuel may be upset by the strange call, Eli is calmly assuring him that everything will be all right. That faithful support is returned just a few sentences later when God tells Samuel that the house of Eli will shortly fall due to the sins of Eli’s actual sons. Samuel had to deliver that painful news to his mentor and boss Eli, and Eli accepts the decree, praises Samuel for his honesty and says “God will do what God deems right.” Even in a potentially tragic moment, their connectedness, their hineni, their willingness to be there for one another brings forth the Divine Presence.
So it is with us as well, and I see it all the time around here. I sense God’s presence the most in this community when we are hineni or present for one another. When you serve meals to the homeless at City Team International, you are calling out hineni, and I sense God’s presence. When you attend a shiva house, whether or not you know the mourners and even though you might have no idea what to say to them, you are calling out hineni, and I sense God’s presence. When you bring a meal to someone who is ill, or take someone to a doctor’s appointment, or drive someone who wants only to pray in the sanctuary to the synagogue, and I have seen all these things many times over here at TBA, you are calling out hineni, and I sense God’s presence. When we hear and respond to the other in the world, God is miraculously present for us. In the moment when we say hineni, God reciprocates by saying hineni too.
Lesson #3. It’s OK to be awestruck, dumbstruck, and dumbfounded sometimes. In the Biblical story, Eli tells Samuel that the next time he hears God’s voice to say: “Speak, Adonai, for Your servant is listening.” Samuel does not follow Eli’s instructions precisely, for he says: “Speak for Your servant is listening,” omitting God’s name. Here, at the most important spiritual moment of his life, he forgets to acknowledge God’s presence? . I imagine he was so utterly awestruck, that he forgot this most basic, important instruction. If we are lucky enough to experience a “moment” like this we are sometimes so overwhelmed with emotion that we cannot find the right words to express ourselves. And that’s OK. It’s more than OK. It’s good to be stunned speechless sometimes, to have an awe inspiring moment that we can’t put into words. We, present company included, can be so overly rationalistic that we close ourselves off to the mystical, to the experiential, to the Divine!
And that, in a sense, was what those Priests-to-be were trying to tell our overly rationalistic ragtag band of rabbinical students back in 1990. Be open not only to the career, but to the calling, not only to the commandments but to the One who commands.
And after that meeting I began to look back at some of my “calling” moments, only much later beginning to understand that they were calling moments. Surely, God was in some of these places, and I, I did not know it. Moments like when in between my ball playing in the back yard, as a preschooler, I would use the pillows not to build forts as most kids would, but to build arks from which to recite Kiddush with a plastic cup. Like the time on Erev Shabbat at BBYO’s teen summer camp called ILTC in a beautiful place called Starlight, Pennsylvania, where we were sent to walk in silence amongst the trees of the campground, and I was able. as a 16 year old boy, amidst the stars in Starlight, to think about Torah instead of girls for 10 whole minutes. And like the time when I was working at Clorox, post college, and I spent a nearly an hour comforting one of my colleagues who was distraught. Why? You see, at Clorox, after a year or so, they promote you if you are doing well, and at the time of your promotion they move you to a different brand. We were working on Tilex, which “removes mildew stains instantly without scrubbing,” and just before the promotions were announced he said to me: “I’ll go anywhere but the cat litters, anywhere but the cat litters.” Clorox owns Fresh Step Cat Litter, by the way. The day of the promotion came, and sure enough, my friend got placed on Fresh Step Cat Litter. He was bawling in my office for about 30 minutes, because at the time it seemed tragic to him that he’d be working on cat poop instead of mildew. That was the moment I realized I wanted a job that felt more meaningful to me, and I started working on my rabbinical school application the next day. I mean no disrespect to Clorox or any other company with this story. In fact, looking back, I can say that Clorox treated its employees much better and more humanely than many of the non-profits I have been associated with. But in retrospect, that story was part of my calling to become a rabbi—God was right there amongst the cat litter and the mildew and the tears of my colleague.
Let me conclude, not so parenthetically, by saying that you don’t have to be a rabbi to be called or to respond hineni to serve the Jewish people and Hashem. I believe that every one in this room has a purpose, a sacred purpose, a gift, if you will, that you bring to the Jewish people. And that’s the most important part here. We, the Jewish people, need you in any way you are capable, to serve the Jewish people, whether it’s as simple as bringing in your cans of food to help the Alameda County Food Bank or davening the Amidah in shul or taking a trip to Israel or belonging to a synagogue and paying membership dues. But these are just the baby steps. I’ll have more to say about this on Yom Kippur, but our Jewish actions ultimately should mean something more. They should ultimately serve a bigger and broader purpose that helps human beings and humanity, makes our community a kinder and more inviting place, makes our city a safer and more compassionate place, makes our world a stronger and better place. At the heart of all our calling is the idea that we are God’s partners in, if you’ll pardon my use of the most overused expression in Jewish life today, in tikkun olam, in repairing our broken world. And in finding your gift, your purpose, you may very well be calling out hineni, saying, I am there for this community, for the Jewish people and, ultimately, for God. L’shana tova umetuka, may 5774 be a good and sweet new year for all of you, but may it also be a year where we are open to hearing the call and responding with hineni, here I am, ready, willing, and present.
One of the first things a child learns in Kindergarten is how to respond when his or her name is called when taking attendance. The teacher calls your name and you say “here.” In my case, Bloom, it was usually 3rd or 4th—my sympathies to some of the members in our congregation like the Abrami family, who must barely have time to get ready, and to Arlene Zuckerberg, for whom the wait must seem like an eternity.
Well, it works the same in Israel, except that instead of saying “here” or “present,” you say “hineni,” which literally means I am here or here I am. But symbolically, it means so much more. That is because hineni is a loaded term from its frequent and significant use in the Tanach. It is used on its own no less than 14 times in the Hebrew Bible, but more importantly, it is found in some of the most substantive moments in the stories of our most important Biblical figures, from Abraham’s Akeidah, the binding of Isaac, to the Jacob and Esau birthright story to Joseph and his brothers to Moses at the Burning Bush to Samuel, King David, and the prophet Isaiah.
This year all my sermons will be connected by the common theme of this word hineni, here I am. Throughout these High Holidays we will explore, in greater detail, some of the aforementioned Biblical stories in which this word appears as well as look at living examples of hineni successes and failures. What does the concept really mean and have we fulfilled the ideals and ideas which it is supposed to foster?
By way of introduction, let’s begin to define hineni beyond the simple “Here I am.” According to a book on the subject called Hineini in Our Lives by Dr. Rabbi Norman Cohen, to whom I am indebted for much of my High Holiday material this year, hineni “represents the ability to respond to the other within relationships.” It means: “Here I am, present and available for you.” I am ready to be a friend, a listening ear, a sounding board, even a punching bag, but I am there specifically for you. More formally, according to Cohen, there are three main aspects to the idea of hineni.
(1) the ability to be present for and receptive to the other,
(2) a readiness to act on behalf of the other, and
(3) the willingness to sacrifice, if necessary, for someone or something higher.
I want to expand briefly on each of these aspects, taking them in reverse order.
The willingness to sacrifice for someone or something beyond ourselves. When I read that line I immediately thought of Don Quixote in The Man of La Mancha singing The Impossible Dream, “to be willing to march into Hell for a Heavenly cause.” The Biblical paradigm for this is Joseph and the story of his brothers. His brothers were out pasturing at Shechem when his father, Jacob, asks Joseph to go look for him. He responds “hineni,” here I am, ready to do what you ask. It sounds simple enough, but it is laden with significance. The fact that they are in Shechem is a foreshadowing of the violence that is about to occur there. The reader knows Shechem was a place that would later become known for its violence with the rape of Dina and her brothers Simeon and Levi wreaking havoc and vengeance upon the Shechemites there. Joseph probably didn’t imagine that he would be cast into a pit and sold to a caravan of Ishmaelites on the way to Egypt to be sold into slavery, but he did know his brothers couldn’t stand him and that he would be risking his own safety if he were to find them. But duty to his Father enabled him to say hineni, here I am; I will go look for my brothers. Joseph was willing to sacrifice for something greater than himself, and we are charged with following his example.
The World War II generation, which Tom Brokaw called The Greatest Generation in a book by that name, understood this idea of sacrifice like few generations before or since. They not only risked or gave their lives for a noble cause in which they believed, but when they returned, they were all about giving to others. They worked themselves to the bone so their children could have a better education and more comfortable lives than they had. Volunteering, doing things for other people, seeing causes beyond themselves, became a part of who they were, and they built institutions like synagogues and schools and libraries through their selflessness. And they did all this not for personal glory, but because it was a part of their nature. They may have indeed been the greatest generation in American history, but there are examples of that selflessness in today’s world as well. When I first began to think about this sermon, 19 firefighters had just lost their lives in Prescott Arizona this past June. They knew they were putting themselves in harm’s way or chose a job where they would have to do so because they wanted to serve others. They were true heroes. But if we are to believe the cynics, people today are motivated only by selfishness. To quote Robert Reich, Secretary of Labor under President Clinton and Professor of Public Policy at UC Berkeley:
Economics, and much of public policy and political strategy, assume that people are motivated by self-interest, that the definition of acting rationally is to maximize what you want for yourself, and that other values – service, duty, allegiance to others, morality, and shared ideals – are either irrelevant or negligible.
But these things are not irrelevant. I truly believe that many people are motivated by things like morality, service, duty, and love, even when it involves risk and sacrifice. So the first or third aspect of hineni is the willingness to sacrifice oneself, if necessary for the sake of the other.
The second aspect is closely related to the first, though not quite as extreme. This is the readiness to act on behalf of the other. A Biblical role model for this is Abraham, though I’ll explain that in further detail on the second day of Rosh Hashana. I imagine that almost everyone in the room has someone in their lives that they would do anything for, even if it adversely affected themselves, whether we’re talking about a child, a spouse, or a lifelong friend. When we see these people suffering, most of us would do almost anything to take away their pain and put it onto our own shoulders if we could. One of the best illustrations of this idea is in the popular song recorded by The Hollies but written by Bobby Scott and Bob Russell entitled: He Ain’t Heavy; He’s My Brother. I’m sure many of you know the song. The story behind it is quite interesting. It is based on a poster for Boys Town in Omaha, Nebraska, established by Father Edward Flanagan. Father Flanagan saw a picture of a boy carrying another boy on his back with this inscription in a magazine called The Messenger. Boys Town had a resident with leg braces with whom the other boys would take turns giving him a ride on their backs. The fact that the other boys in the orphanage saw him as a brother made him seem like a lighter load than under ordinary circumstances, so Father Flanagan decided to make it the mission, logo, and slogan of his orphanage. It’s a great story, and I believe that most of us stand ready and willing to act on behalf of others as long as we are made aware of their need.
And that brings me to the third or first aspect of Hineni, the ability to be present and receptive to the other. Yes, we would do anything for others if we are made aware of their need, but too many of us are not doing so because we are failing in our ability to recognize the need, to be present and receptive to others. This problem is getting infinitely worse in our society because of our electronic distractions—our smart phones, our tablets, our laptops, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat. These things have us so plugged in that we are paradoxically tuning out. We care more about telling people about an event than the event itself. We are not there in the moment like we need to be. I first noticed this in my life before the age of social media when officiating at life cycle events. People cared more about how the wedding, Bar Mitzvah, and even funeral were recorded than they cared about the event itself. Then I noticed it with my kids and computer games—“just one more level Daddy” became the inside joke we told.
But, and this is hard for me to admit, I have noticed it gradually in myself. Just one more e-mail kids, just allow me to finish this last thought, and I’ll be with you. It’s OK, Daddy, I’ll just play another level while you finish your one more thought. I’m not playing as much catch or basketball with them or taking out my guitar and singing with them or talking to Karen about how our days went as I used to or as I need to be. I even find it hard to watch television without having some other device where I can check my e-mail by my side. While most of what I do electronically is work-related and our congregation is much busier with 470 families than it was 12 years ago when I started with 270, it is still not what I hope for and expect from myself.
And so I begin this season with a public apology to my own family, something I’ve already done privately, to Karen, Micah, Jonah, my parents, and my friends and congregants for not being as “Hineni” as I honestly need to be. It’s something I am going to work on this year. But the thing is: I can’t be alone in this. I know that far too many of us are telling ourselves we are multi-tasking, when the fact of the matter is, we are distracted tasking, not paying enough attention to anything. The digital age is not making us more productive; it’s making us less productive, but, more importantly, it’s making us less hineni for the people who need us in their lives. Certainly we’re ready to act on behalf of others, maybe we’re even willing to sacrifice for others, but we’re becoming increasingly less present for others, less hineni. So let us resolve this year to unplug a little more—after all, isn’t that part of what Judaism is designed to do with Shabbat and holidays—if not to study Torah or pray, then at least to take a walk or have a conversation. If you want to do something productive for yourself, have a shluf, take a nap. It’s probably the thing your body needs most of all.
But hineni also means wake up from your nap. God called out the names of Abraham and Jacob and Moses and Samuel, and they responded “hineni, here I am.” In conclusion I’d like to quote my doppelganger Matthew Broderick from one of my favorite eighties movies, Ferris Beuller’s Day Off, waking up from his slumber, Ferris says: “Yep, I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again. Life moves pretty fast. You don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.” Thank you Jeremy Simon for reminding me of that one. L’shana tova umetuka, may 5774 be a good and sweet new year for all of you, and may it also be a year when we are able to say and truly mean, hineni, here I am, present and available to you.
Temple Beth Abraham General Fund
The General Fund was established to accept donations that will directly impact the General Budget of the congregation. Donations to this fund will support the day-to-day operations including; the programs of Bet Sefer, Gan Avraham, synagogue salaries, and buildings and grounds,, membership outreach, our efforts in Tikkun Olam, Adult Education and religious observance programs.
Leonard Quittman Endowment Fund
This fund was established in 1976 to ensure the long-term financial health and stability of TBA. It is funded primarily through the annual High Holy Day Appeal, bequests and special lifetime gifts. This fund is administered by the Board of Trustees and all money is held separately from the general accounts of TBA.
The Endowment Fund historically is managed for the synagogue’s financial future and provides income that can be made available to fund special initiatives, especially those directed at the congregation’s long-term growth and stability, meet unforeseen emergencies, and support the synagogue’s current needs. This fund was renamed in 2003 to honor Leonard Quittman (of blessed memory) for his tireless efforts in creating this fund to ensure that TBA survived for future generations.
Rabbi Bloom Discretionary Fund
Donations to this fund are used to support the community of TBA and the greater Jewish community at the discretion of Rabbi Bloom.
Cantor Discretionary Music Fund
Donations to this fund are used by the Cantor to provide musical and liturgical programming for the synagogue. Funds are disbursed at the discretion of the Cantor.
Bet Sefer Discretionary Fund
Donations to this fund are disbursed by the Education Director. Funds are used to support the programs at the Bet Sefer and other educational needs.
Gan Avraham Discretionary Fund
Donations to this fund are disbursed by the Gan Avraham Directors. Funds are used for the support of the Gan Avraham program.
Donations to this fund are used to subsidize our unsponsored weekly Kiddush Luncheons that are shared by the congregation after Shabbat morning services and other items that are used to enjoy our Kiddush weekly.
Morning Minyan Fund
Donations to this fund support the morning minyan by providing additional prayerbooks and breakfast for those attending minyan. The minyan fund has sponsored various Shabbat morning Kiddush luncheons and Congregation events with the agreement of those attending Morning Minyan.
Murray Davis Courtyard/Next Big Thing Building Fund
Donations to the fund are being used toward our current campus improvement. We have just finished a project that included: demolition of the house at 333 MacArthur and replaced with a courtyard, build out of the social hall with gathering space on the balcony, new kitchen with added space, play area and connections through out the facility for easy of movement around the campus. The Murray Davis Courtyard is named for a wonderful friend and member.
Donations to this fund assist in purchasing prayerbooks, chumashim and machzorim for the congregation.
Rabbi Ralph DeKoven Camp Ramah Scholarship Fund
This fund provides scholarships to students whose families are in financial need and wish to attend a Camp Ramah program. Submissions to the committee can be submitted to the Rabbi of the congregation.
Yom HaShoah Fund:
This fund was established in memory of loved ones whose lives were cut short in the Holocaust. This fund supports educational programming relating to the Shoah at Temple Beth Abraham and throughout the community.
Jack and Mary Berger Fund:
Education of young people was of paramount importance to Mary and Jack Berger. This fund was established to foster the love of learning.
Celia and Morris Davis Hunger Fund:
Celia and Morris Davis were founding members of Temple Beth Abraham and welcomed people into their home as well as the synagogue. They were known throughout the community for their kindness in assisting those in need. In memory of their generosity of spirit, this fund was established to help feed hungry and needy people in the community in which the Congregation is located.
Herman Hertz Israel Scholarship Fund:
In honor of the Herman Hertz Family commitment to both Israel and Education, this fund provides scholarships to TBA graduates who have completed either 4 years of classes in the TBA Teen programs or who have celebrated their Bar or Bat Mitzvah in the synagogue. A scholarship is offered to assist in the travel to or live in Israel for a period of time.
Mollie Hertz Interfaith Outreach Fund:
This fund was established to honor Mollie Hertz and her efforts to welcome and include all people who are “Karov Yisrael” (one who is close to Israel) into the Temple Beth Abraham community. The purpose of this fund is to support the efforts of spouses and partners of Temple Beth Abraham members to increase their knowledge and appreciation of Judaism, and to reach out to other individuals who wish to learn more about Judaism.
Jack and Jeanette Jeger Kitchen Fund:
This fund was set up by Jack Jeger z”l in memory of Jeanette Jeger z”l who spent much of her time in the kitchen preparing a meal for the members of TBA. The proceeds of this fund will be used for the sole purpose of improving the kitchen of TBA. Jack Jeger was also a loved member of TBA always giving support and love to his friends and the congregation. They are both missed by many.
Danielle and Deren Rehr-Davis Teen Fund:
The purpose of this fund is to sponsor or support activities for the benefit of persons between ages of 14 to 20 who are members of TBA, and of other Jewish persons ages 14 to 20 in the local community. For example , distributions may be made for expenditures relating to: Congregation-sponsored programming and functions designed for teens; security for teens participating in Congregation or community sponsored events; dances; guest speakers; Shabbat Kiddush gatherings; outings; programs to foster the health and well-being of teens; services in support of disabled teens; support for B’nai Brith Youth Organization functions; support for confirmation classes and/or ceremonies; support for brother/sister programs with other synagogues; assistance for foreign exchange students.
Harold Rubel Memorial Music Fund:
Harold Rubel had a love of music. He sang in his synagogue choir in New York and organized cantorial concerts for his community. This fund was established in Harold’s memory to foster a love of music in the Temple Beth Abraham community.
Rosebud and Ben Silver Library Fund:
Ben and Rosebud Silver were dedicated to learning through literature. This fund was established to further the ideals of literacy by creating and maintaining the synagogue’s library and religious texts.
Sam Silver Playground Fund:
Sam Silver adored children and as a testament to this love the family of Sam Silver established this fund. This fund maintains and improves our TBA playground for use by both children of TBA and Gan Avraham students.
Leo and Helen Wasserman Educational/Cultural Fund:
Leo and Helen Wasserman were great leaders of our congregation and community. Helen was president of many organizations. Leo was president of Temple Beth Abraham and served on many community boards. This fund was established to underwrite special educational and cultural events at Temple Beth Abraham.
Pola Silver Teen Holocaust Education Trip Fund:
This fund was created by Cheryl Silver and her children on the occasion of Alan Silver’s 60th birthday. The fund honors Pola Silver, Alan’s mother and Holocaust survivor, along with honoring Alan’s volunteering work with AZA as an advisor for many years. The fund will provide some financial assistance to help TBA teens who wish to go on programs like the March of the Living program.
It would be an honor to establish a new fund in honor or in memory of a loved one. Simply contact the Rabbi or the Executive Director for details.