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13
08/27/2010 09:04 AM Posted by: Rabbi Lyon
A Letter from Rabbi Lyon to Congregation Beth Israel

From the Desk of Rabbi LyonThis past June, Rabbi Larry “Jake” Jackofsky was diagnosed with a very rare brain disease. It is called KJD, for short, and it’s devastating. Sadly, he died this week and the funeral was held on Thursday, at Temple Emanu-El, in Dallas. Hundreds of people filled the sanctuary where men and women, young and old, gathered to remember their rabbi whose life of service in the southwest was unique.

Jake, as he was fondly called, served our Union for Reform Judaism’s southwest region for 30 years. He was every small town’s rabbi, every congregation-without-a-rabbi’s rabbi, and he was every rabbi’s rabbi. He was also the founding director of Greene Family Camp. He had a sense of humor, an intellectual curiosity, and a Jewish soul. His thick white hair became a trademark as did his constant references to Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heschel. Personally, I’ve known Jake for 20 years. He was a friend, a mentor, and one who came to be with me when I was installed as rabbi in Dallas and Houston.

My words here are not meant to be a eulogy. Rabbi David Stern and Rabbi Richard Address delivered magnificent and heartfelt tributes to our colleague and their friend. Instead, my words are meant to share some perspective with you about a man whose rabbinate touched many Jewish families in the southwest and many rabbis, as well. I attended the funeral on Thursday. Sitting around me were dozens of rabbis from the region who put down their preparations for the high holydays and many other duties to drive or fly to Dallas, and remember “one of our own” and one of the truly good ones. As the eulogies were given, we shook our heads, laughed out loud, and wiped our eyes. We remembered the times he listened, counseled, led, taught, challenged, and inspired us.

I know that each of you, in your respective fields, have grown very fond of colleagues with whom you’ve worked. Over years, it becomes more than time spent. It becomes a cherished partner with whom you solve problems, discover solutions, and challenge one another to be at your best. Their death is like losing a member of the family. When “one of your own” and “one of the good ones” departs this life, we can feel like we’re all alone without our helpmate at work. To persevere, we all have to learn the lesson we rabbis are more accustomed to teaching. We have to honor our colleagues’ memories by striving to be “one of the good ones,” too.

At the end of the funeral, when we stood to recite Kaddish, I could feel the strength of my colleagues taking up the slack his absence leaves behind. In Judaism, choosing life for ourselves is our only triumph over death.

With his loving wife, Ellen, and wonderful son, Daniel, Jake’s memory was remembered by hundreds of people who were present for the funeral and countless more who were touched by his life. The rabbinate is richer for his gifts, and the future of Reform Judaism is made stronger by the examples he set for us to follow. May the memory of all our beloveds be for a blessing now and always.

Shabbat Shalom.


10
08/13/2010 02:57 PM Posted by: Rabbi Lyon

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon

We live in a green age. Everybody’s doing it. Recycling. Reusing. Replenishing. It’s been a long time in coming. Growing up in the 70s, I remember it seemed like a fad to focus on the earth, ecology and things green. But, being green began long before the 70s, and still long before agrarian movements took root (no pun intended). This week, in Shofetim (Deuteronomy 20:19), we read about the origin of our unique Jewish focus on ecology. We learn:

“When in your war against a city you have to besiege it a long time in order to capture it, you must not destroy its trees, wielding the ax against them. You may eat of them, but you must not cut them down. Are trees of the field human to withdraw before you into the besieged city? Only trees that you know do not yield food may be destroyed…” (Deut. 20:19-20)

The underlined words above, “you must not destroy,” are at the heart of an important Jewish value. It’s called “bal tashchit” and it teaches us that we are prohibited from wasting or destroying precious resources. In ancient times, it was common for a warring band to utterly destroy a land by despoiling it of trees and vegetation. But, Torah limited the extent to which armies could conquer and destroy. As Torah explains, only trees that do not yield food may be destroyed, and even those should be used to fortify a besieged city.

 Underlying the prohibition isn’t just simply an ancient affection for fruit trees. Rather, it was for both practical and religious reasons. Practically, trees provided wood and resources for settlers. They were permitted to chop down and use the wood from trees that didn’t provide fruit; but fruit bearing trees were sources of food that provided nourishment for people and animals. Religiously, the earth and all that it sustained was created by God; therefore, it belonged to God. Human beings, though they were granted dominion over the animals and trees of the earth, were, nonetheless, held to an ethical standard. Human beings were granted what they needed, but the earth and all its goodness was God’s.

In light of today’s focus on the environment, bal tashchit becomes more relevant than ever before. More than the 60’s and 70’s that raised awareness of all things natural, it was the Torah, itself, that maintained a critical connection between God and human beings which regulated our behavior towards God’s creations. In history, there were generations that did less than their part to honor God’s creations. The industrial age, alone, did much to undo and spoil rivers, streams, air and human health. But, enlightened minds and morally inclined deeds lived up to values rooted in Judaism. Now, not just on earth day, but every day we honor God by respecting the earth and everything it sustains, including ourselves.

Another product of the 70’s, Kermit the frog sang “It isn’t easy being green.” Kermit’s sentiments were much less than a psalmist’s lament about the environment, but it points to the challenge we have to embrace our practical and religious obligations to reduce wastefulness. If we regard it as a mitzvah, we will surely preserve the earth, and also preserve our covenant with God.

From my family to yours, Shabbat Shalom.

_________________________________________________

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