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298
01/20/2017 12:00 PM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
January 20, 2017

 

The Exodus begins, tonight. This Shabbat, we open the Book of Exodus to the familiar story. If we read it as if it were new to us, then every verse would be filled with suspense, intrigue, angst, faithlessness, and hope, again. We would want to read to the end to learn the fate of the Israelites, because the plot is so gripping (Hollywood really knows how to pick a script). And, we retell the Exodus story every year in every generation, because the Exodus is such a great metaphor for our life.

                From the Exodus we learn from our Sages, "All beginnings are hard.” It’s true. Anybody’s first day in a new job will be the most difficult. Anybody’s first love relationship will be the most endearing. And, anybody’s first journey will feel like the longest. It’s only after retirement that one’s career feels that it went faster than it really did. It’s only after 50 plus years of marriage that a couple might look back longingly on the years that went by so quickly. And, it’s only on the return trip home that the journey feels so short. Lessons we learn along the way become part of the commentary we add to our own Exodus stories.

                On Friday, January 20th, the United States welcomes its 45thpresident. Statistically, 40% of Americans welcome the start of this journey even though it’s filled with suspense and intrigue. But, the rest of Americans already register angst and faithlessness. Remember that all beginnings are hard; and, angst and faithlessness can be overcome. Evidence of leadership and service to a larger cause can replace angst with confidence, and faithlessness with belief. It took Moses and the Israelites to reach some accord over the course of many years. Though Americans are in a hurry, it has institutions of Democracy and courts of law on which our nation has always relied. Leaders have come and gone; some have been weak and untrustworthy, and others have been great and remarkable. John F. Kennedy, a Catholic and a great president, was once falsely accused of having a direct line to the Vatican from which he would take his direction. Richard Nixon’s involvement in Watergate taught us that we had to hold our political leaders accountable. In the Reagan and Clinton eras, we learned how their respective strengths and visions enabled America to benefit from her core economic and social values. Through it all, our nation endured.

Like them or not, every American president is one of us, and about the newest president, 40% of Americans agree. Suspense and intrigue lead them to follow, while the others have no other choice. In the ancient story, some Israelites eagerly followed Nachshon into the Red Sea, as Moses raised his arms to part the waters. Given the alternative to return to Pharaoh’s Egypt, the others quickly followed. Moses stumbled in his leadership. He failed to sanctify God’s name before the people and lost his privilege to enter the Promised Land. But, eventually he accomplished what he was singled out by God to do.

We know lot about Moses, and our new president is no Moses; but, he is the one whom we need to watch and follow. At his best, he should raise us up and assure us. At our best, we should consider him to be another American like us, whom we need to hold accountable to the institutions of our land, to the standards we know are best, and to the outcome all Americans demand, namely, hope in tomorrow for one and all.

Together, let’s open the Torah to the first verses of Torah, and embark on this journey. We often wish it wouldn’t have to take us so far and for so long, but we have no choice. If we wish to reach a better time, a Promised time, together, then we must go and faithfully serve the needs of our nation.


You may contact Rabbi David Lyon here.

297
01/13/2017 12:01 PM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
January 13, 2017

 

Every morning for the past month, I’ve made it my routine to visit the sanctuary. Every day during the week, skilled workmen have been fulfilling plans to renovate our sacred space after devastating floods. This week, I entered the sanctuary to see some very special improvements and changes that will be revealed next week on Shabbat, January 20th. Here’s a list of highlights:

 

  • The tall bimah will appear lower and closer to the congregation. The height of the Holy Ark hasn’t changed, but the first step to ascend the bimah is closer to the congregation because the lower bimah has been extended towards the congregation by permanently removing two rows of seats.
  • A permanent and integrated ramp has been added to the left side of the bimah. This addition will enable everyone to ascend the lower bimah with ease and dignity. A chair lift will still enable those who need it to ascend to the upper bimah.
  • Hearing devices have been upgraded. Those who depend on hearing enhancements can walk anywhere in or out of the sanctuary up to 500 feet and still hear everything in the service.
  • New carpeting throughout the sanctuary, Wolf Toomim Hall, the Karff, Barnston, Friedlander/Levy, Fleishman Family and Lasher Family hallways brightens and updates the spaces.
  • New coverings for the bimah chairs integrate with the color scheme of new carpeting, new wallpaper in the sanctuary, and other new furnishings.
  • Behind the bimah, the Gathering Room has been refurnished and the bathroom has been remodeled and enlarged. The choir practice room has been lined with shelves to hold our new High Holyday prayer books and both rooms are carpeted and suitable for welcoming bimah guests and families. 

 

One of my goals has always been to transform our sanctuary, which welcomes hundreds each week, into a warmly welcoming worship experience. Standing closer and speaking with, rather than preaching to, the congregation will continue to be our benchmark; and, now we can do it in a space that responds to our congregation’s spiritual needs.

                Nearly two years ago, I stood in the sanctuary and said to those with me, "I wish we could do something about the carpeting.” Some weeks later, the first flood overwhelmed the neighborhood and inundated our sanctuary. "Be careful what you wish for” might be the lesson, but the results left us with a challenge we overcame by assembling experts who love Beth Israel and participated in the transformation.

                Though she wouldn’t like the recognition, there are few words that adequately express my appreciation for Shirley Toomim’s role in the transformation. Her eye for texture, color, style and efficiency enabled us to trust her choices to enrich such a grand space. Her attention to detail and to the schedule has brought us to our completion on time and on budget. It’s not a miracle; it’s Shirley.  

                On Friday, January 20th, at 6:30pm, we’ll reveal the sanctuary, sing joyfully with Cantor Mutlu on Down Home Shabbat, honor Anna Rosenbaum and her family on her bat mitzvah weekend, express gratitude to Houston Jewish Federation for their support and generosity, recognize Mayor Pro Tem Ellen Cohen for the role of the City of Houston, and welcome New Members to the bimah for a blessing. It’s an inauguration that you won’t want to miss and an occasion at Congregation Beth Israel that will forever be recorded as part of its rich and enduring history.

                On behalf of Cantor Mutlu, Rabbi Scott, Rabbi Herman, David Scott, Michael Jenkins, Joan Gelfond, Patrick Colbert, and Bruce Levy, I thank you for being present to witness another sacred step on our sacred journey at Congregation Beth Israel. May God bless you and your family; may God bless Beth Israel. 


You may contact Rabbi David Lyon here.



296
01/06/2017 01:00 PM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon
January 6, 2017

 

In two weeks, our new president will be inaugurated in our nation’s capital. Since Election Day in November, I’ve read and listened to reactions about the president-elect’s cabinet appointments, foreign policy preferences, and familiar tweets. I’ve also read and listened to reactions of my Reform Jewish colleagues who have much to say about the president-elect and his entourage. Where does it leave me? Or, should I say, where does it leave us? The answer falls into two categories: "What Can We Say?” and "What Can We Do?”

        Before January 20th, there’s nothing we can say. The table is still being set and no decisions have yet been made. Pundits and forecasters are doing their jobs by gleaning from facts and fiction the insights they’re obligated to report. For the rest of us, this lame-duck period isn’t a time to jump to any conclusions. Instead, it’s a time to collect information, learn all that we can, and evaluate what we know based on fact and not fiction. It’s also a time to learn more about organizations and non-profits that represent our points-of-view, socially, politically, economically, and Jewishly. On websites, we can read about organizations’ missions and who serves as CEO or president. And, we can subscribe to blogs and objective news sources, including ones from Israel.

        After January 20th, there’s much to do. As it should be in the case of any president, we should become better advocates than we’ve been in the past on issues that are important to us, individually and as a community. As this president takes office, there’s no question but that the times and circumstances are different. The rise in anti-Semitism, alone, is enough to call us all to act on behalf of Jews everywhere and other minorities, too. As the New Year began, HUC-JIR in Cincinnati, our Reform Jewish seminary, founded in 1875, was defaced with swastikas; and, closer to home at Memorial High School in Houston, anti-Semitic and racist graffiti drew the attention of the ADL and police for assistance to secure students’ security and safety.

        For these reasons, after the inauguration, it’s critical that we remain vigilant and ready to defend enduring Jewish values through advocacy work that engages our congregation and those who join us in our efforts. I will invite you to engage with Interfaith Ministries, where I serve on the Board with our Temple member, Jay Harberg; ADL, where our Temple member Marvin Nathan serves as National Chair, and Dena Marks serves as Associate Director; and, AJC, where Marcia Nichols serves as Immediate Past-President and many Temple members serve on the Board. Many organizations that represent us and our values will become more important to us as the year gets underway.

        Finally, the pulpit is as important as any blog, today; but, except in the most urgent of times, the pulpit is a place to promote and defend Jewish values but not political points of view. I will do my very best to avoid political punditry and focus on the values that are inherent to each of us and imperative to our security as Jews and citizens of our great nation.

        There are many things I am, but there is one thing I am not. As Amos said (7:14), "I am not a prophet, nor am I the son of a prophet.” Amos didn’t make his living as a prophet, and he didn’t predict the future like a seer or clairvoyant. Rather, Amos observed the facts on the ground and upheld the truths inherent in God’s teachings. The future about which he prophesied bore witness to enduring values that couldn’t be denied except at great personal and national peril. You’re not a prophet either, but Moses said long before Amos (Numbers 11:19), "Would that all God’s people were prophets.” None of us can predict the future, but all of us can bear witness to God’s teachings by advocating for truth and decency, by defending Jewish values and human rights, and by participating in the democratic process as engaged citizens.

        On January 20th, we’ll witness the inauguration of our nation’s new president. Later that day, Congregation Beth Israel will inaugurate its new sanctuary following months of planning and renovations to recover from devastating floods. Mayor Sylvester Turner, Mayor Pro Tem Ellen Cohen, Temple President Bruce Levy, our Rabbis and Cantor welcome everyone for a ceremonial Ribbon Cutting and joyful Sabbath Worship service at 6:30pm.

        May the inaugurations of our highest political office and our highest sacred space be prophecies of glory to God and all God’s people.


 

You may contact Rabbi David Lyon here.


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