06/28/2018 03:00 PM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon

June 29, 2018


If you’re moving the pins on your map, then you’ll find me now in Colorado. Today, I’m surrounded by books and my laptop. In the early afternoon, I sat outside to read. The breeze and wind were magnificent. The bugs, however, were unusual with odd wings and multiple legs. That’s why it’s good for me to get away; I get out of my comfort-zone where I can feel nature all around me. Then after enough of it, I go inside again. The view from the window is spectacular and just as inspiring, but with less swatting and fidgeting.


Though vacation and sabbatical are times away for special purposes and personal growth, they don’t permit me or anyone else a complete absence from the world around us. The internet and social media bring the world to all the places we retreat. Perhaps the difference I’m really seeking is a retreat from the noise of it all. In this mountain retreat, there’s no cable TV and sporadic internet on the hiking trails. The irregular access means that I have to choose with greater discretion what to use my internet access to read and know.


In my time to reflect, I’ve thought about the many questions I was asked this past year. Some were challenging as we considered your personal and family matters, together. Some of them were easier because we were planning for a happy occasion, a simcha, like a bar/bat mitzvah, a wedding or a baby-naming. But, the profoundest question I was asked more than once was what does "my Judaism” demand of me? It’s not a new question. In every age and generation, this question has been asked and answered.


In Micah 6:8, we are taught, "God has told you what is good, and what the Eternal requires of you: only to do justice, and to love goodness, and to walk modestly with your God.” Micah, like all the Hebrew prophets, admonished us to believe that God, Who is beyond our praises, demands of us our greatest commitment to ethical duties to each other.


In Mishnah Pirkei Avot, we are similarly taught, "Do not separate yourself from the community.” Jews don’t thrive in isolation. There are no Jewish monks. Jews live and survive in the company of other like-minded Jews. Furthermore, we’re taught that we can’t make our homes in a place where there are no synagogues or doctors. We need both of them.


We’ve also been taught by mindful Jews in modern times that though we, in our generation, have enjoyed the privilege to live freer than any Jews before, our obligations to keep faith with God, Torah, and Israel, and to serve the Jewish people has never been greater. The persons who asked me, "What does my Judaism demand of me?” were spot-on. At Beth Israel, our advocacy for Israel and social justice causes are all expressions of the ancient prophetic voice. Reform Judaism is especially attuned to it. Notwithstanding our obligation to worship, it is in the realm of service to the needs highlighted by the prophets --- hunger, poverty, widow and orphan, the stranger --- that compels us to get it right.


The synagogue makes Jews. The synagogue cultivates reasons for believing and dispatches young and old, alike, to carry Jewish messages into all that we do for each other every day. From our youngest children to our oldest adults, we reach them with serious Jewish education, meaningful Jewish worship, and profoundly effective and affective ways to serve the larger community’s needs. It begins with understanding why, and then participating in how it can be done. But, if the need is exceptionally urgent, then the "how” must precede the "why,” just as our rabbis taught us: the understanding comes through the doing.


As summer heat continues, please retreat from the noise around you, too. Reflect on what the year has been and what the New Year, coming soon, will be for you and us, together. From the mountains and the trails, Shabbat Shalom.



You may reach Rabbi David Lyon here.

06/14/2018 03:30 PM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon

June 22, 2018


 Don’t cite Biblical verses. Don’t make historical references. Don’t recite poetry and rhymes. When we forcibly separate children and parents, for any reason, we violate and ignore every natural human instinct. It makes monsters of us. Monsters don’t listen or learn. They distort biblical verses; they refuse historical references; and, they belittle poetry and rhymes. They feel nothing but a ferocious and unfed appetite for destruction and mayhem. Thankfully, millions of compassionate people in the U.S. and around the world spoke with moral authority and refused to be complicit. This week, the order to destroy families was overturned with another powerful stroke of another presidential pen.

Suffering isn’t unfamiliar to us. Every day, we fail to abolish suffering, but not because we fail to recognize it. We fail to abolish it because limited resources are deployed to address other, perhaps more resolvable, crises. But, we know suffering is there. In most cases, we haven’t failed to do something about it. The difference in our current environment is that our nation’s leaders created suffering. They took the path of least resistance and succumbed to their basest human instincts wrapped in warped interpretations of sacred texts and history. It was so appalling that most Americans, and national and world leaders, were provoked into action. When the Pope admonishes the president, even Jews understand the significance.

Unfortunately, residual and long-term suffering will persist among the children who will not be easily reunited with their parents. The authorities who created this suffering cannot be trusted to account for the souls that have been affected, and they cannot be trusted with telling the families or us the whole truth. It’s a blight on our nation’s duty to humanity and an omen of this administration’s unwillingness to assign the nation’s most intransient problems --- not just immigration --- to the nation’s best and brightest minds in science, technology, ecology, education, economics, energy, etc.

Nevertheless, we can be hopeful. Millions of Americans, non-profit and faith organizations used their collective voices to create change. The same groups will see to it that the best outcome for the families will be realized. Some hurt will remain, but much more hope will be found.

This week, please do the following:


1)       Set aside political excuses about illegal immigration, and suspend irrational fears about the families who arrived on the border; 


2)      Read emails from Congregation Beth Israel to learn about ways you can help. The whole Houston Jewish community is involved and engaged in worthy projects to bring families together, again, and restore the faith of the world in the United States of America;


3)      Add a prayer of gratitude for the values of our nation and our faith that still measures its greatness on how we treat the most vulnerable among us. Let it always be a reflection of love, compassion, and mercy.


From my family --- our four children and daughter-in-law, and my wife, Lisa --- Shabbat Shalom.



06/14/2018 03:30 PM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon

June 8, 2018




The Beth Israel travelers returned home from Israel this week. They learned many new Hebrew words, like "arba” (four), "boker tov” (good morning), and "todah rabbah,” (thank you). But, they never needed to use words like fear, hate, or anti-Semitism. Their vocabulary was shaped around the experiences they had and the ones they opened themselves up to feeling.

We didn’t deny them access to facts on the ground. We met with Danny Tirza, the architect of the "separation wall.” In three places, including a checkpoint where Palestinians came and went from Israel to the West Bank, Danny explained and showed us how less than 10% of the fence is actually a wall. The majority of it, by far, is a see-through, though impassable, fence. We felt the angst of those at the checkpoint, but we didn’t see the fence as anything but a security fence that has safeguarded Israel.

We met with Gadi Taub, a brilliant scholar with a PhD from Rutgers University. In addition to being a prolific author, he is a writer for Ha’aretz, even though he doesn’t share the newspaper’s left-wing positions. His insights into Israeli politics and issues were a highlight for the group for the depth and breadth of information that Gadi delivered in 90 minutes talk and discussion.

Near the end of the trip, we visited the Ayalon Institute, better known as the Bullet Factory. Long before high-tech innovation in Israel, there was ingenuity and resourcefulness that provided thousands of rounds of bullets to fighters in 1948. Hidden below a kibbutz, they managed to outwit the British, and even their own kibbutzniks, for the sake of serving the cause of independence and survival. You’ll have to see it for yourself to understand it.

The farewell dinner was special. Almost everyone shared a special moment, enduring memory, and lesson learned about the trip. What stood out to me about this group was the enormous amount of new understanding that each traveler absorbed and appreciated. The journey is far from over. In some ways, it’s just begun. But, now, with a deeper love for Israel, the land and the people, each new step will be a contribution of self for a cause and a purpose that is larger than ourselves and one that must endure long beyond us.

Today, I’m in Paris. We had a very special tour of the Marais, the Jewish quarter of Paris, with Rabbi Tom Cohen. His generosity of time and spirit made it clear that the relationship between world Jewry and Israel is seamless. Jews in Paris are doing well, and their community is thriving. I also met with Stéphane Beder, Senior Vice-Chair of the World Union for Progressive Judaism (WUPJ), over coffee and French macaroons. From Stéphane, I learned much about the realities on the ground for European and Asian Jewish communities. It’s a subject that we don’t know enough about in America. More about this subject, and the macaroons, later.

Shabbat is coming. I miss being with you, but I’m grateful for the time to be where I can learn, absorb, and appreciate what is beyond home and also what is waiting for me when I return. Lisa joins me in wishing you a restful and joyful Shabbat. Shabbat Shalom.


06/07/2018 04:47 PM Posted by:

From the Desk of Rabbi David Lyon

June 14, 2018



I’m in Israel. More than that, I’m breathing the air, eating the food, speaking the language, and watching our group experience the land and people for the first time or the first time in a long time.


The Torah portion that accompanies us this week comes from the book of Numbers. In Sh’lach Lecha, twelve spies scout out the land that God brought the Israelites to enter. The spies saw the people of the land, and they were strong and mighty. They saw the fruits of the land, and they were abundant and large. They saw themselves and said, "We looked like grasshoppers to ourselves, and so we must have looked to them.” Ten spies shared this ominous report when they returned to their fellow Israelites. Only Joshua and Caleb saw what was possible.


Joshua and Caleb reported that everything was possible if they brought God with them into the land God promised their forefathers and foremothers as an inheritance. They said, "Let us surely go up!” God blessed Joshua and Caleb. They’re remembered for their optimism and faith.


In Israel, today, there is also remarkable optimism and faith. Lyana Rotstein, our amazing guide, reminded us that Israelis have no time to ask "What if?” In the face of constant complexities and challenges, they persist and overcome. Some do it with Israeli-brand chutzpah, others do it with faith, and still others do it with both.


For sure, the media get only a fraction of the story. The larger truth is found on the ground and in the streets of every city in Israel. The larger truth is also found on nearly every border or cease-fire line that Israel defends. There is no other nation that would be held up to the scrutiny that Israel is every time it pushes back its foes and defends its people. Who could ask Israel to do anything less than any other country whose borders are invaded by terrorists and enemies?


We’ve seen and learned about history, innovation, security, defense, and politics. We’ve met with an expert in military strategy and preparation, visited an army base to see the Merkavah tank, walked the streets of the Old City of Jerusalem, learned with the CEO of the Israeli Reform Jewish movement, and still left time for eating delicious food, Israeli dancing, and swimming. There’s nothing we can’t do in Israel. In a land of complexities, Israel, second only to Silicon Valley in technology, makes it look so easy. Though we know it isn’t easy, we’re grateful and dedicated.


Shabbat is coming. Like you, we’ll pause from our schedule to welcome Shabbat in Jerusalem. It will be a refreshing and moving moment for all of us. It will be a time to give personal thanks for the blessings we’ve come to know and to prepare for the rest of our journey into the heart and soul of Israel.


This report is filled with optimism and faith. I have no doubt that Israel will thrive and every confidence that Congregation Beth Israel will be part of Israel’s and the Jewish people’s future. From Rabbi Scott and all who are here with us, Shabbat Shalom from Jerusalem.








You may contact Rabbi David Lyon here.




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