Monday, April 28, 2014

Remember Yes, but How?

This is my welcome I gave last night at our annual Yom Hashoa Memorial Service.

Shalom. I am Rabbi Gary Greene of Marathon Jewish Community Center and I would like to welcome you here for our annual Yom Hashoa memorial service on behalf of my colleagues Cantor Heyman of Marathon, Rabbi Eli Shifren of Temple Torah, Rabbi Gordon Yaffe and Cantor Shron of Congregation Dor LeDor, all the Presidents of the three shuls, and on behalf of all the hard working members of our joint Yom Hashoa committee.

When I saw the documentary, No Place On Earth,  how Sonia Hochman’s family was saved from the Nazis by living underground for a year and a half, I was moved by their story.  Their bravery, ingenuity, resourcefulness, their love for one another, and their joie de vivre are inspirational.  My favorite part of the documentary was the very end of the movie when they showed pictures of each family with at least 3 generations in each photo because this demonstrates their resilience in particular and of the Jewish people in general.  Hitler is no more but we’re still here and flourishing.

We are dedicating our Yom Hashoa service this year to the memory of Alice Herz-Sommer, a piano virtuoso.  Until she died this past February at the age of 111 years old, she was the oldest living survivor in the world.  Alice was billeted with her son during their time at Theresienstadt, and he was one of only a few children to survive Theresienstadt. Her husband died of typhus in Dachau, six weeks before the camp was liberated. After the Soviet liberation of Theresienstadt in 1945, Alice and Raphael returned to Prague and in March 1949 emigrated to Israel to be reunited with some of her family, including her twin sister, Mariana. Alice lived in Israel for nearly 40 years, working as a music teacher at the Jerusalem Academy of Music until emigrating to London to be with her son in 1986. Her son Raphael, an accomplished cellist and conductor, died in 2001, aged 64, in Israel  at the end of a concert tour. He was survived by his widow and two sons.

Alice Herz-Sommers had every right to be bitter because of all of her life's experiences, but chose not to be.  She bequeathed her wisdom to us as her legacy.  She said that one must look for the beauty in life.  She saw beauty in life everywhere.  She said, “I know all about the bad, but I only look at the good things.”  She was asked whether she hated the Nazis and she said she hated no one because “Hatred eats the soul of the hater, not the hated” and “Hatred breeds only hatred.” 

Beyond fighting Anti-Semitism here at home and abroad, I can think of no better way to remember all the Jews during the Holocaust than carrying on their legacy by being as brave, resourceful, loving, and resilient, and now looking for the beauty in life no matter what are circumstances are. In this way, they will live on through us, our children, our grandchildren, and great grandchildren from this time forth and forever more. 

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Will the real fifth question please stand up.

The real fifth question[1]

Many of you have learned because many of us have taught that the text of the Haggadah eliminates Moses from the narrative to emphasize God’s role in the redemption of the Jewish people.  Indeed God is the hero of the story. “In every generation they stand up against us to destroy us-and the Holy Blessed One saves us from their hand!” “’God brought us out of Egypt’-not by an angel, not by an archangel, and not by a messenger.  It was God alone, in His glory, and by Himself.’”

With the above quotes, the rabbis emphasized God’s role in order to exclude other supernatural beings that the pagans believed in.  Although God wrought miracles in the land of Egypt to free the Israelite slaves, this fact does not preclude human participation in the drama of the Exodus. The Haggadah itself subtly teaches us that human participation was a necessary component in the story of the Exodus.  Allow me to illuminate several examples from the Haggadah to demonstrate how important human participation truly was.

We find Moses mentioned in the Haggadah twice, once directly by name and once he was alluded to.  “’Signs’-This is the staff.  It is written, “Take this staff in your hands (Moses), and with it perform the signs.’ (Exodus 4:17)” “At the Red Sea it is written, ‘Israel saw the great hand that God had directed against Egypt.  The people feared God and in his servant Moses.’ Exodus 14:31” The first quote introduces Moses to Pharaoh for the very first time and the second quote is when he leaves Pharaoh on the shore of the Red Sea.  These two verses found in the Haggadah serve as bookends which highlight the importance of Moses throughout the entire story.  Let’s face it.  The staff that ate the magician’s staffs when they were all turned into snakes just didn’t walk into Pharaoh’s court all by itself.  Moses brought this staff with him when told Pharaoh, “Let my people go!”  The second quote alludes to Moses standing over the Red Sea with his staff outstretched over the waters to part them. As you can see, the Haggadah doesn’t think Moses was chop liver.

Speaking of the Red Sea episode, according to the Midrash the water didn’t part until Nachshon ben Aminadav from the tribe of Judah took a leap of faith and jumped into the water.  Only after he jumped in, did the water split.  Once again showing how important human participation was in the saving of the Jewish people.

The Talmud in Sotah 12a teaches us that if it wasn’t for the righteous Jewish women of that generation, the Israelites wouldn’t have been redeemed out of the land of Egypt.  The apple, nut, and wine mixture, Charoset, alludes to one example of these righteous women.  Of course, the Charoset symbolizes the mortar the Jewish people used to build the pyramids.  Nevertheless, the Charoset hints to another Midrash.  Pharaoh used back breaking labor as an effective birth control method. At the end of the day the Jewish men were too exhausted to do anything else.  The Jewish women realized this would be disastrous because there would be no future generations to come into this world.  When the men broke for lunch, the women went to the apple orchards where the men were resting, brought them lunch, and seduced them. Without these women subverting Pharaoh’s schemes, Moses, Aaron, Miriam, would never have been born.  The apples in the Charoset remind us of these righteous women!

Finally, the Haggadah has a strange verse from Ezekiel “I made you as the plants of the field.  You became many and grew, and became mature.  Your breasts were full, your hair was grown, but you were naked and bare. (Ezekiel 16:7)  I passed by you and saw you covered with blood, and I said to you, ‘By your blood you shall live!’ and I said to you, ‘By your blood you shall live! (Ezekiel 16:6)  Why are we talking about a naked person covered with blood?  The Zohar, the book of Jewish mysticism, explains why this verse is quoted in the Haggadah.  God does not manifest providence-rewarding virtue or punishing evil until He witness human actions. “Rabbi Yehudah said, ‘If so, why blood?...(Rabbi Yossi) replied, ‘There were two bloods: one of circumcision and one of the Paschal Lamb. Of circumcision, Compassion (the sefirah of Hesed); of the Paschal Lamb, Judgment (the sefirah of Din). Before the Israelites left they had to circumcise all the males and offer up the Paschal Lamb.  The midrashic interpretation is apparently based on the repetition of the exclamation “In your blood live”  In other words, the Israelites were naked of commandments and thereby they weren’t worthy of redemption until they did something. Without the bloods of circumcision and Paschal Lamb they would not have been redeemed.  Only after they observed these two mitzvot would God make the Exodus happened.

God is great, but without our ancestors’ active participation in the events leading up to the Exodus “then even we, our children and our children’s children would still be slaves in Egypt.”  What was true for our ancestors is true for us today.  If we want to see a redeemed world, we have to act as God’s partners. Only when we do our share, will the Holy One be aroused and manifest His providence.  So the real fifth question isn’t “When do we eat?”, but rather “What am I doing to bring redemption closer?”  Answer that question correctly and we shall no longer need to say “Next Year In Jerusalem.”

Hag Pesach Samayach!

[1] I am indebted to David Arnow.  This blog is inspired by his article “The Passover Haggadah: Moses and the Human Role in Redemption.”  To read this article go to and click on the articles tab.  You will see a fuller discussion of this topic.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Deja vu all over again

“Déjà vu all over again” Yogi Berra

Back in 2009 Defense Secretary Robert Gates announced a Pentagon review of the deadly shooting that left 13 dead and another 24 wounded at Food Hood to help ensure that “nothing like this ever happens again.”

It’s déjà vu all over again.  5 years later a depressed Iraq veteran potentially suffering from post traumatic stress shot and killed 3 people and wounding 16 others before turning his gun on himself at Fort Hood this past Wednesday, April 2, 2014.  According to the New York Times (April 4, 2014), “Specialist Lopez bought his gun at the same shop near the base where the 2009 gunman, Maj. Nidal Malik Hasan, bought his weapon.  Each shooting started in a medical support area for troops, and each ended when the gunman confronted a female police officer rushing to the scene.

It’s déjà vu all over again. Just this past September there was another shooting spree leaving 12 people dead at the Washington Navy Yard.

It’s déjà vu all over again.  Every month New York Times columnist Joe Nocera publishes a list of gun violence occurrences in order to put a human face to victims and not let them be an anonymous number.  Here is his April 3 Gun Report:

Joshua Lee Nun, 9, was shot to death by his 12-year-old brother near Panama, Okla., Wednesday afternoon. The boys were reportedly playing with a gun, and it discharged and hit the victim in the chest. The boy’s mother and other children were home at the time. Authorities are investigating how the children got the gun.
A 9-year-old girl was hit in the back by a stray bullet as she was doing homework in the dining room of her home in Youngstown, Ohio, early Tuesday. Police said the girl was caught in an exchange of gunfire several yards from the home. No arrests have been made.
Three people—Lacravia Collier, Franklin Mitchell and Lashawn Tyson—were shot and wounded following an argument outside an apartment complex in Greenville, N.C., early Wednesday. Police believe the shooting stemmed from a fight at Buffalo Wild Wings earlier that night. No arrests have been made.
Marquis Sams, 20, and Wilneka Pennyman, 19, were killed in a drive-by shooting in front of a home in the Little Haiti neighborhood of Miami, Fla., early Wednesday. Pennyman tried to run off but collapsed outside the home. Sams was found dead in a car parked outside. Police are not sure if they were targeted.
Melissa Vaughn Green, 33, was shot and killed by a man who then turned the gun on himself at an apartment complex inRussellville, Ky., Wednesday afternoon. A neighbor said the suspect, Kenneth Temple, was the victim’s ex-husband or ex-boyfriend, and he had just spoken to the woman’s current boyfriend before opening fire in the parking lot. Green and Temple leave behind two children.
Casey Nicole Mitchell, 33, a mother of four, was shot and killed during a domestic disturbance at a home in Brunswick, Ga., Tuesday. Jermaine Javon Thomas, 37, fled the scene but was arrested the next day.
A 45-year-old woman was shot and killed in front of her children during a dispute with her domestic partner in Newton County, S.C., Tuesday night. The victim’s 12-year-old daughter was shot in the hand, and the suspect’s 3-year-old grandson witnessed the shooting. Aaron Garsua McClain, 45, was arrested at a motel inGeorgia.
A 20-year-old man was shot and wounded while trying to defuse a domestic dispute in an apartment in Fall River, Mass., Wednesday afternoon. Guillermo Santana, 29, is being sought.
A man shot himself after crashing his car into the car of a woman with whom he was having a domestic dispute in Loudoun County, Va., Tuesday evening. He is being treated for life-threatening injuries.
A 21-year-old man was shot and killed at a home in Markham, Ill., Tuesday night. Police have launched a widespread search for suspects.
Ralph Quarels, 21, was killed and another man was wounded in a shooting in east Oakland, Calif., Tuesday night. The victims were shot while driving a rental car. Police don’t have a motive and have not yet made an arrest.
A 35-year-old man and a 27-year-old woman were shot multiple times and killed in north St. Louis, Mo., Wednesday afternoon. Their bodies were found in a car across the street from a middle school.
A woman was shot and wounded in a townhouse development inLower Paxton Township, Pa., early Wednesday. Neighbors said the woman kept a low profile. She is not cooperating with police.
A 25-year-old man was found lying in a driveway with a single gunshot wound to his chest following a disturbance at a home inOwasso, Okla., Tuesday night. Witnesses told police the shooter was Ryan Brashier, 23, who surrendered to officers outside a QuikTrip store. Police did not reveal a motive.
Tarrance Roshawn Campbell, 24, was shot multiple times and killed in High Point, N.C., Tuesday night. His body was found lying in the road. Anyone with information about the incident is asked to call police.
Jarrick Boone, 21, was killed and a 23-year-old man was wounded in a shooting in Beverly Hills, Mo., early Wednesday. There’s no word on suspects.
A woman in her 60s was shot during an attempted robbery inYork, Pa., Wednesday night. Police are searching for a suspect.
A man was shot and wounded during a fight in front of a home inDesert Hot Springs, Calif., Wednesday evening. Police are asking anyone with information to contact them.
Dominique Curtis Scott, 23, was shot and killed at a home inRidgeland, S.C., Tuesday. Devin Dwayne Swinton, 23, is being sought. He is considered armed and dangerous.
Emery Lorenzo Williams, 64, was killed in a drive-by shooting while on his way home from church in Spartanburg County, S.C., Wednesday night. The victim was on the phone with his wife when he was shot, and his car crashed in a parking lot across from a fitness club. Police said the shooting appears to be random. No arrests have been made.
Samuel Sawyer was shot in the face during an argument with his neighbor involving romantic jealousy in Valdosta, Ga., Tuesday night. The victim’s fiancé said Hubert Heflin, 48, called her a bad name, and has been trying to break up her relationship for years. Heflin, an ex-convict, was arrested. Police said the victim will likely lose his eye.
Nathan Benjamin Trapuzzano, 24, was shot and killed during an attempted robbery while he was power walking near his home in Indianapolis, Ind., Tuesday morning. Surveillance video shows one of the would-be robbers shooting the victim in the stomach. His wife was expecting their first child. “As with many tragedies, this seems so senseless, and yet the outpouring of love and support reminds us that there is so much good in this world,” his family said in a statement. No word on arrests. In a separate shooting late that night, a man was found shot and critically injured in an alley behind a row of houses on the northwest side of Indianapolis. No word on a suspect.
A 17-year-old boy was shot and wounded while allegedly breaking into a home in the Montbello neighborhood of Denver, Colo., Tuesday afternoon. The homeowner was not arrested. Police will present their findings to the district attorney’s office, which will determine charges.
A woman was shot as she walked out of a business along a busy stretch of Stockton, Calif., Tuesday night. Officers were responding to a fight and gunshots outside a nearby restaurant when they located the victim in her car. A possible suspect was spotted running from the area.
A woman was shot and critically injured in the Berea neighborhood of Baltimore, Md., late Wednesday. Police have not released a suspect description or motive.
A 28-year-old man was shot and killed on a street in the Harlem neighborhood of Manhattan, N.Y., early Tuesday. Police canvassed the area for a shooter, but he or she remains at large.
Koruth Deon Mangle, 43, was shot to death in his apartment inHarvey, La., Wednesday night. The victim’s son said family members were in their apartment when intruders kicked in the door and shot the victim in the head, “like it was personal.”
A 22-year-old man was shot multiple times and killed in a suspected gang-related attack in the Lincoln Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, Calif., Wednesday afternoon. The victim was found on a sidewalk. No arrests have been made.
A 16-year-old boy was shot in the thigh in a home in the Point Breeze neighborhood of Philadelphia, Pa., Wednesday night. Investigators said someone is in custody. No word on a motive.
Sinque Hagler, 24, was shot in the stomach and killed inWilmington, Del., Wednesday afternoon. The victim, who went by “Man-Man,” was found in his car near the Wilmington Housing Authority’s Riverside project. He leaves behind two daughters under the age of three.
Gerid W. Forste, 31, was shot and killed during an argument at his apartment in Valparaiso, Ind., early Wednesday. The suspect, who shot the victim multiple times with an AR-15 rifle, confessed to police at the scene. No motive was given.
A man was shot and killed on the north side of Saginaw, Mich., Wednesday afternoon. At the time of the shooting, local police were preparing for a citywide anti-violence march.
A 21-year-old woman was shot in the knee in an apartment building in the Englewood neighborhood of Chicago early Wednesday. A man was detained for questioning. No word on a motive.
According to the Gun Violence Archive4,280 people have been injured by gun violence in America and 2,624 have been killed since Jan. 1, 2014.
I wondered how the 4 children in the Haggadah would respond to all this gun violence?  Here is my take.

The Four Children and gun violence
The wise child says: The vast majority of Americans want sane gun laws to curb senseless gun violence and needless death. “Over 75% of the American people are on our side; American mainline denominations are on our side; 75% of NRA members are on our side. The only possible thing that could stand in our way is to forget who we are (that we are created in God’s own image) and why God put us here (to be His partner to perfect the world). “  (America and its  Guns Page 213)

The wicked child says:  There are no circumstances when regulation or restriction should be placed upon the acquisition of guns. Guns don’t kill, only people kill. Guns represent Judaism’s most cherished values of self-preservation.  Besides I don’t know anybody personally who was killed by gun violence.

The simple child says:  Why would anybody want to come into my school with machine gun and kill so many of my friends?

The child who doesn’t even know how to ask just weeps.