Rabbi Message

Yasher Koach – January 2013

Dear Friends, Yasher koach to all the volunteers who worked so diligently to make HELP Week successful at Rodef Sholom Temple! I thoroughly enjoyed sharing the experience of hosting our guests and contributing what we are able to supply to the well-being of homeless people who participate in our local HELP program. What a wonderful way for us to lead into the new secular year of 2013 as a caring and committed Conservative congregation!

In stark contrast to the vitality we feel at Rodef Sholom Temple, there has been much talk about “the decline” of the Conservative movement in the United States. Surveys have been quoted citing “alarming” statistics. However, in a recent article by Rabbi Alan Silverstein, published in Conservative Judaism and entitled: “The Vital Center is Holding,” a different picture emerges. Silverstein, a trained sociologist and a Conservative rabbi, takes a look at the data more closely.

Examining the “Jewish Community Study of New York: 2011,” which claims that what happens in New York reflects trends around the U.S. and that affiliation in New York Conservative congregations is falling precipitously, Silverstein points out that the New York study found 142,000 affiliated Modern Orthodox Jews, 191,000 members of Conservative synagogues, and 160,000 members of Reform synagogues. In addition, he cites an article in the New York Jewish Week that reports that rather than a decline, the numbers of affiliated members for Conservative Jews between 2002 and 2011, represent “approximate stability.”

I believe that in our own temple, if we look at the same time frame, we will also find that we have maintained “approximate stability.” Of course, in the past year we were blessed with new members from B’nai Israel, but we have also been blessed in recent years to have new families, including families with young children, join us– thanks in no small measure to the excitement generated by our active congregation and by our carefully crafted educational programming both for families and for children.

Silverstein notes that the Synagogue 3000 study agrees that on Saturday mornings “Conservative services are far better attended than Reform services” and that this is “a reflection of there being an ongoing Shabbat morning worshipping community in Conservative congregations,” due to “emphasis on observing special practices…on the Sabbath or…holy day” and upon “personal prayer, meditation, devotion or other spiritual practices.” Indeed, if one seeks to pray with a morning minyan, not only on Shabbat mornings, but also on Monday or Thursday mornings, Rodef Sholom Temple is presently the only option available on the Peninsula.

Admittedly, in my day-to-day life, I tend to think of myself as “Just Jewish” and I like to feel equally connected to all my Jewish brothers and sisters. Nevertheless, I cannot help noticing how important denominational affiliation is for the future of our people. And, as people increasingly tend to reject labels and to resist denominational labels, it is important to note that, according to the latest studies, denominationally affiliated Jews are consistently more Jewishly engaged than people who identify as “Just Jewish.” So, for instance, 73 percent of affiliated Conservative Jews rate “very high” or “high” on a scale measuring Jewish engagement, while 72 percent of “Just Jewish” respondents rate “low” or “very low.”

While I have profound admiration for the various movements in Judaism, and I appreciate the unique contributions each of them brings to the table, to be sure, I cannot ignore the immense contribution of the Conservative movement to the present and future engagement of our people in all things Jewish, and in all things communal in the community at large.

Keeping our ritual and ethical traditions alive, relevant, and vitally connected to one another is the heart of Conservative Judaism. It is also the secret of keeping our children and our children’s children involved, caring, and committed both to Judaism and to community. And, it is certainly a large part of the secret of the ongoingvvitality of Rodef Sholom Temple.

Speaking of on-going vitality, I am very excited about the upcoming celebration of Rodef Sholom Temple’s centennial in 2013 and I look forward as well to sharing many experiences of engagement and involvement with you in the coming year. I also encourage you to share your own excitement about RST with friends and acquaintances who may be unaffiliated, and to invite them to come to RST to get to know us. We will certainly be happy to get to know them!

I take this opportunity to wish you and your loved ones a very happy and healthy new secular year of 2013!

Rabbi Gilah Dror,
Holder of the Dr. Bernard A. Morewitz Rabbinical Chair

Shana Tova!

shofar

Dear Friends,

I hope the summer has treated you well and that you have enjoyed the blessings of “down time” and of relaxation. I know that I have enjoyed the opportunity to rest, to get away for a few days, and to come back home recognizing the blessings that are right here – the blessings of family, of friends, and of community.

For us, as Jews, this is the time to take stock of our lives and to prepare for the New Year. So it is natural for us to reflect on some very basic questions. Who are we as human beings? Who are we, specifically, as Jewish people? What makes our Judaism compelling? What makes our High Holidays meaningful? What motivates us to come back to RST year after year, or to join RST for the first time this year?

In response to these questions, some might cite a sense of mission. Some might say there is a meaningful sense of belonging to a tradition that taught us values and gave us a spiritual heritage with attendant rituals to keep us focused on the important things in life, because it is so easy to forget. It is so easy to be swallowed up in the trivial aspects of life; to forget who we are at the core of our very being; to forget that we are created in the image of God, carrying within us a special spark that connects us to eternity, to truth, to hope and to compassion. And, it is so easy to forget that we are connected to others and that they too are created in the image of God….

One of the things that I personally find most compelling about Judaism is that, as Jews, we are encouraged to develop and maintain the spiritual practice of praying three times a day. This spiritual practice is so meaningful to me because our daily prayers keep alive within us an awareness of our own blessings. At the same time, they make space for us to ask God to fulfill our worthy desires and needs; to raise up our challenges and the challenges of our community; and to bring them before God.

As I write these words, a simple prayer resonates in my mind: May the new Jewish year, 5773, be a year of blessing and of joy for all of us and for all people everywhere. And it can be– especially if we help make it so–for ourselves and for others. But how can we help? Our Rodef Sholom Temple Sunday School students have the opportunity to bring food for the local Jewish Family Service food bank on all of our Sunday sessions. We have been providing our Sunday School families with this option for helping to alleviate hunger for several years and we will continue with it this year as well.

Also, this year, as in past years, Rodef Sholom Templeenables us to participate in Project Isaiah. Inspired by the haftarah of Yom Kippur and the prophet Isaiah’scall to our people to make our fast meaningful by reaching out and helping those in need, we are invited once again to fill bags with kosher canned goods and dry foods and bring them to RST to be taken to our local food banks shortly after Yom Kippur.

The Jewish Council for Public Affairs (JCPA) recently published some shocking statistics based on studies released recently by a number of agencies and organizations. These studies show that between 2007 and 2009, the number of households struggling with hunger increased more than 33%. And in 2010 this trend continued. More and more people, more and more children, do not have enough to eat. One in four households with children in American do not have enough food. They rely on volunteer based food banks as well as on federal food and nutrition programs such as SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – what used to be called “food stamps”). In 2012, SNAP participation rose to a record level of more than 46.2 million Americans. We can help eliminate hunger in America. And we can help Jewishly.
Focusing on one week this fall, our choice of either the week before Rosh Hashanah (September 7-13) or the week before Thanksgiving (November 11-17), The Rabbinical Assembly, along with United Synagogue of Conservative Judaism, JCPA, MAZON: A Jewish Response to Hunger, and rabbis and organizations of all denominations across the United States are joining the Jewish Community Food Stamp Challenge, living for one week on the average food stamp allotment ($37.50) to demonstrate the Jewish community’s commitment to ending hunger. A practical note for those of us who are interested in taking up this challenge… It is permitted to participate in and to eat at functions such as a Friday night oneg and a Shabbat Kiddush lunch at synagogue or on other occasions at work or in social settings where food is being served as part of the event. But when one is eating on one’s own and/or purchasing one’s own food and beverages during that week, it should all be within the specified budget.

Several of my rabbinic colleagues have taken up this challenge in the past, and they report that it is very difficult to get through the week on this budget, and that it is exceedingly difficult if one tries to maintain a nourishing and balanced diet. Yes, we fast on Yom Kippur to allow ourselves to focus on our personal “course corrections” for the coming year, but in doing so we also feel what it is like not to have food available to us at all times. So, let’s remember the words of Isaiah, and make our fast a prelude to deeds that make our world better. Whether we contribute to our local JFS Food Bank, to Project Isaiah, give to MAZON, or take up a week’s Jewish Community Food Stamp Challenge, maintaining an awareness of our own blessings and of the challenges of those among us who are needy is at the heart of our commitment to living Jewishly. Sometimes, we get so involved in the debate about who is responsible, that we forget the message of Isaiah. It is a simple message. It is an important message. It reminds us that we can help. We can feed the hungry. It is what God wants of us. And, when we participate in this mitzvah on behalf of the Jewish Community, as we do in Project Isaiah, or in giving to MAZON, we are certain to make Isaiah smile from the heavens, and say: Yes, it was worth my while to be a prophet in Israel.

It is so easy for us to drift off from our center, but fortunately for us, our Jewish rituals, our cycle of holidays, and our connection with Rodef Sholom Temple, bring us back to our essence time and time again. Let Isaiah’s call remind us of who created us and what gives our fleeting lives on this earth that special meaning that only connection with something greater than ourselves can provide. May 5773 be a year of blessing for us and for all people everywhere. I take this opportunity to wish you and your loved ones a Shana tova u’metukah – a good year, filled with blessing and joy.

Shana tova!

Rabbi Gilah Dror,
Holder of the Dr. Bernard A. Morewitz Rabbinical Chair