From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
January 30, 2015
AIPAC is the American Israel Political Affairs Committee. Its mission is “to strengthen, protect and promote the U.S.-Israel relationship in ways that enhance the security of Israel and the United States.” Congregation Beth Israel, like many Houston Jewish leaders and congregations, works with AIPAC to ensure a secure America and a secure Israel. There are other organizations that focus on Israel’s well-being, socially and politically, and we validate their purposes; but, AIPAC, alone, lobbies Congress, educates every congressional leader on the issues facing Israel and earns their trust to support Israel on Capitol Hill. This is a unique organization that compares itself to no other.
March 1-3, 2015, I will be leading our Congregation Beth Israel delegation to Washington D.C., where we will participate in the annual AIPAC Policy Conference. In the past two years, our Beth Israel delegation has been one of the largest in Texas. Thus far, we have 25 congregants who are registered to attend. I’m pleased to report that we have 3 more discounted rates available for those who want to register and attend the conference at a $100 discount. Please contact David Scott, Director of Lifelong Learning, for information. David will be joining us at the Conference and bringing along Beth Israel students to learn and participate in the program. For full details on the Policy Conference, go to www.policyconference.org, and www.aipac.org, for a full description of AIPAC’s mission.
Israel is front and center in the news. For Jews, it’s imperative that we stay abreast of all the news we can, whether it’s happening across the country or half-way around the world. We are one people; what happens to Jews there, happens to Jews here. For everyone, the implications of anti-Semitism have raised some familiar and some new questions. A familiar question is what to do about anti-Semitism, today, in Europe, on college campuses, in the media, etc.? The answers include practical solutions like vigilance, laws, and education. They consume vast resources that cannot be diminished in the face of rising attacks and threats against Jews and Jewish communities.
A new question is what does anti-Semitism mean to us as communities of culture and as nations of the western world? France has been unwittingly thrown into the fray with the attack on Charlie Hebdo. But, France answered the question about what it means to its culture and to nations of the western world by unabashedly embracing its Jewish population and the outlook they share for a free and democratic world. France has the potential to serve as a vivid example of how to address anti-Semitism in this century and avoid the atrocities of last century.
The AIPAC Policy Conference invites all of us to hear from leading national and international leaders, including Prime Minister of Israel Benjamin Netanyahu. Live speeches and presentations, plus break-out groups on all matters related to the Middle East, Israel and Europe, will make this three-day conference one of the most vital parts of your education on the issues and a principal way for you to return home to Congregation Beth Israel and play a role with us in Israel Advocacy.
It seems that there are fewer roads to peace than there were in the past; but, Jews and Judaism are hopeful. Peace is in our future, and it is predicated on one non-negotiable fact: Israel, the land and its people, will thrive in its homeland in the Middle East. The rest is part of the critical conversations that the AIPAC Policy Conference will help us understand and which will take place between leaders over time in many places. I can’t think of a better use of your time and resources than to learn about the issues from the sources and spend time on Capitol Hill to bring the message of a strong America and Israel to our congressional leaders, personally.
In the Torah this week, we read Shirat Hayam, the Song of the Sea the Israelites sang as they celebrated freedom from Egyptian slavery. Let’s sing this Shabbat about our hope for a world of freedom for us and all people everywhere. Remember, “Pray as if everything depends on Heaven; Do as if everything depends on you.”
You may contact Rabbi David Lyon here.
From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
January 23, 2015
Rabbi Aaron Panken, PhD, President of Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion, our Reform seminary, will be our guest this weekend. Rabbi Panken is the leading voice of the Reform movement who can articulate our movement’s mission for North American and world Jewry. Speaking at services on Friday night, leading Torah study on Shabbat morning, and addressing us Saturday evening, Rabbi Panken will have three excellent settings to share his lessons and perspectives
Events in the world that cause us particular concern as modern Jews are of utmost importance to Rabbi Panken. As President of the leading non-orthodox seminary in the world, he must lead HUC-JIR to address world events and to prepare its students to lead in an ever-changing and currently fanatical world. Jews are not of one mind about Middle East issues, which means that seminary students are also not of one mind. Their passions are strong just like yours. HUC-JIR aims to harness their passion without dampening it. The goal is to provide them ways to grow as Jews with insights from our tradition, which, when properly understood, can speak to our times. The formula for such execution of goals and visions is not a small task; however, Rabbi Panken has a unique set of gifts and skills, which makes him especially prepared to lead HUC-JIR well into the future.
Clarity and wisdom without fantasy or false hopes help us feel anchored in a tradition that enriches us while we explore new ways to resolve today’s problems. Torah and its teachings have sustained us even when we suffered in the past. They sustain us now when we see the world and its Jews struggle around the world. Rabbi Panken will demonstrate how to make the greatest use of what we have to help us accomplish what we know can still be true. We are an engaged and modern congregation with a variety of concerns for the future and passion to resolve them. Rabbi Panken’s goal is to reach us with his leadership and profound messages on Reform Judaism today.
Please join us this weekend. We will not have this particular opportunity again for some time. Our world is changing at a rapid pace. It’s vital that we are all as informed as we can be in order to live in world that resembles our dreams for us and our children. Please check your calendar for the following dates and times this weekend, January 23-24, 2015.
Friday night 6:30 in the sanctuary
Saturday morning Torah study 9:45-11:00am in the Finger Board Room
Saturday night 7:00pm in the Margolis Gallery.
HUC-JIR is our training ground. Our congregations are our proving grounds. Here we make a difference. Come learn from Rabbi Panken and enrich your contributions to Jewish life here and everywhere. Rabbi Panken will inspire, teach, and prepare us all for the Jewish future we want to share.
You may contact Rabbi David Lyon here.
From the Desk of Rabbi
As news cycles go, it’s late to comment as urgently as others did after the peace rally in Paris. But, I write for a Friday deadline. Nevertheless, I can’t stop myself from saying it, too. The demonstration of world leaders was unbearable; a sham, to quote a national commentator. I like a good rally as much as the next person, especially after such horrific events in a major European city. However, the sham was the line-up of familiar characters at the head of the parade.
Mahmoud Abbas stood in line with western world leaders? This man isn’t the leader of any country. He’s barely a reliable leader of the people he claims to govern in the West Bank. He has no record for peace-making. He harbors and protects Arabs who are among those who commit radical attacks in the name of Islamism. He would have done better to have stayed far away from the demonstration. Linking himself to a peace rally in Paris might even have created a risk to his political future, let alone his life.
The U.S. Ambassador to France, Jane Hartley, was lost in the crowd far from the front of the line. Yet, the greater misstep was President Obama’s absence from the demonstration. It’s difficult to demonstrate to the free world that you’re its leader when you’re not present and judgment in times of crisis has to be explained with an apology.
Two leaders in the wrong place at the wrong time are bad enough, but the insecurity that I feel as a Jewish leader finds its source elsewhere. Unlike Germany that still reels from the aftermath of WWII, and works to demonstrate to the world that it has distanced itself from its past, France has shown unimpressive leadership as a nation that could lead the way. While it brushed off Nazi occupation after WII, and reclaimed its relationship to Enlightened and romantic thinking in a modern age, it failed to build the bulwarks that would have prevented it from being threatened by growing radicalized groups.
Recently, an American correspondent asked the leader of the Jewish community in Paris about the Jews who are leaving for Israel. He was matter-of-fact and insightful. He said we have to remember what happened in WWII. He said, “The optimists went to Auschwitz. The pessimists went to New York.” It’s too early to know if France will do what is required to overwhelm the Islamists, physically, but, there’s also no evidence except for a demonstration in the streets that they can restart Europe’s vision for the 21st century. Beyond the Middle East where we seemingly countenance their fight for land and power, France needs to quicken its pace from a march in a parade about freedom to a run towards the democratic principles it claims to defend.
Today’s evidence suggests only that France is losing Jews. They will lose more Jews, because the Islamists have broken through to Paris streets. The Jews of France will make their own decisions, because they aren’t ignorant of history. Their hope lies in lands where they don’t have to place their future in France’s promises, or any nation that comes to their defense only when the bottom is dropping out. For now, their hope is in Israel.
The headlines are nothing but astonishing. It’s 2015 and Jews are making choices about whether they should leave their homes and their homelands. Tragically, the questions are the same. Thankfully, the answers are not. Israel is there for them. Support Israel so that it thrives as a destination for Jews who must find peace; give to Israel so that we won’t have to build memorials to this generation, too.
You may reach Rabbi David Lyon here.
From the Desk of Rabbi
There are times when I respond instinctively to matters and write about them urgently. There are other times when I’m stunned by events and take time to consider them carefully. In recent months, I’ve been stunned by incidents between police and African-American youths and men from Ferguson to New York City. They’ve moved our hearts and captured our headlines. Regular citizens filled the streets to protest what they saw and struggled to understand. Others attended funerals to bring honor and dignity to those who defended and sought it on behalf of others and themselves. But, all of us mourned the erosion of one or our nation’s greatest endeavors, namely, to rid our streets and neighborhoods of violence that reflect mistrust, prejudice, and hate.
In light of the world’s explosive conflicts and raging wars, perhaps we’ve grown complacent before such spectacles; but, they aren’t spectacles for our casual consumption. The aim of our nation’s laws on civil rights and moral foundations for humanity has always been to fill our hearts and minds with tolerance, compassion and respect. We cannot “stand idly by” and watch the erosion of such inherent rights; rather, we should aim to protect such rights in spite of the world’s conflicts. If we did, we would demonstrate that we’re better than what we’ve witnessed and that we can be a great nation. We have to begin close to home where we consider and examine our core values.
We start with a moral truth found in Genesis. There, we read that “in the beginning” God created one man, Adam. Why only one? Judaism teaches, so that no one can say, “My father was greater than yours” (Mishnah Sanhedrin 4:5). It’s a high moral reach for some to see in the eyes of a person of another race or faith the possibility of sharing the same origin. However one might regard the Bible, it’s irrefutable that there is a place in time when we were but one. Our human aspirations, therefore, remain bound up in shared expectations for a life of satisfaction and meaning founded on equal access to resources that enable us to choose our way in the future.
We add a Golden Rule, first found in Leviticus 19:18, “Love your neighbor as yourself; I am the Lord.” It’s a golden rule because its value is held higher than most others. Love reflected in tolerance, compassion and respect can only begin in a person who knows love, personally. Mistrust, prejudice and hate are reflections of self-loathing. We learn that the habit of doing a good deed leads to more good deeds; and, that the habit of committing transgressions leads to more transgressions. Love starts within us. It’s the beginning of all we have to give.
Though there are many paths to peace, we must include the lesson from Deuteronomy, which teaches us, “Justice, justice shall you pursue” (Deut. 16:20). Love has its place, but when love can’t conquer other passions and an offense has been committed against another person or his or her possession, he or she is entitled to compensation for the loss. Justice has the same root as righteousness; therefore, our goal in pursuing justice is to restore a person’s integrity by making them whole again.
In places where incidents between police and the African-American community occurred, justice was served in courts of law that weighed evidence and testimony. Though the outcomes didn’t serve everybody’s personal opinions, the courts of law are all that we have to adjudicate our claims. Whether we were satisfied or not with the outcomes, we all must address many levels of personal and communal hurt and disillusionment. No one went unscathed by such racially charged events in recent months, not the least of which was our nation’s priorities. Are we guarantors of freedoms to all? Is justice always blind and moral truth always on high ground? One of the freedoms we enjoy in this country is the inalienable right to express our beliefs and opinions. When we disagree, we must do so with our hearts and minds; not with our guns drawn, even if we are constitutionally entitled to draw them.
In the best and worst of times, Jewish law instructs us in, “In a place where there is no person [of integrity]; strive to be that person” (Mishnah Pirkei Avot 2:5).
You may contact Rabbi David Lyon here.
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