Friday, November 18, 2016

An Ecumenical Thanksgiving

from the pages of Kadima, the newsletter of Congregation Adas Emuno:

From the desk of …                    
 Rabbi Barry Schwartz


When I recently asked members of my Confirmation class to name their most important holiday, several mentioned Thanksgiving “because the whole family gets together.”

Upon discussion, it emerged that for many of our interfaith families, it was the only time that Jewish and non-Jewish members of the extended family gathered together.

Indeed, Thanksgiving has always had an intriguing ecumenical appeal. As a civil holiday for all Americans, it has been a natural gathering time not only for families, but community. Such is the case right here in Leonia. Our annual Community Thanksgiving Service represents the sole meeting of our various houses of worship.

While I look forward to participating in this ecumenical event each year, I have to admit to being a bit dispirited by the diminishing support for this celebration. Part of this has to do with the decline of the faith community in our town. As some of you know, the Lutheran Church in Leonia has closed its doors; its lovely building was recently razed, and my colleague Rev. Peggy no longer serves its pulpit. Over at the Catholic Church, dear Sister Pat, who kept the ecumenical flame glowing there, has retired. Rev. Deborah, of the Presbyterian Church, who kept us Leonia clergy organized, has also retired.

But Pastor David of the Methodist Church, Rev. Dean of the Episcopal Church and I are committed to maintaining our interfaith collegiality. And we are happy to welcome interim pastor Leah of the Presbyterian Church as a new colleague. In fact, we have asked her to preach at this year’s Thanksgiving service, which we will host on Monday, Nov. 21 (8:00pm). Cantor Horowitz and talented vocalists from all our participating congregations will add to the celebration.

I invite you to join us not only to show that we are good hosts, but also to show your support for the ecumenical spirit this service represents. While there are some other occasions when we may get together with other residents of our town, they are purely civil events. Thanksgiving represents a true ecumenism of shared worship and fellowship. And for that I think we should be truly thankful.

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Social Action Update

From the pages of Kadima, the newsletter of Congregation Adas Emuno:


A Report from Annette DeMarco
Social Action Committee Chairperson


Hello to All!

On Sunday, Oct. 30th, volunteers from Adas Emuno served dinner to 150 people at the shelter in Hackensack. A most sincere "thank you" to all who helped with the planning and shopping as well as to those who gave up time on a Sunday to cook, deliver, set up, serve and clean up: Andrea Feinstein, Julie Segal, Judy Aronson, Kerri Klein, Amy Chartoff, Lisa Klein, Randi and Sean Irby, Lauren Rowland and Aaron Fischer, Pearl and Ron Waxman, Cheryl and Richard Alicchio, Virginia Gitter, Carol and Jerry Bodian, Fanny and Michael Fishbein, Sandy Zornek, Jody Pugach, Rachel Capote and Norm Rosen. A very special thank you to Marilyn Katz for coordinating with "Family Promise" and for being involved throughout the process.

Our High Holy Days food collection brought in approximately 50 bags of groceries. What a wonderful showing by our very generous congregants! Thank you also to Norm Rosen for picking up the bags [donated by Shop Rite] and for his help in attaching the list of needed grocery items. Please remember also that we will collect food items when we host the Leonia Interfaith Thanksgiving Service on November 21st.

Monday, November 6th is Mitzvah Day. This committee, along with the religious school, collected school supplies to be given to children in need.

New Program Coming to Adas Emuno

On Sunday, December 11th, tables will be set up in the social hall, each one representing an organization working to "heal" the world. For each donation of $1.80 and up (your discretion), you will receive a blank greeting card (beautifully designed by Lauren Rowland) along with a small, business-sized card, stating that a donation was made (in honor of whomever your recipient is) and to which organization. These make very special gifts from a child to a family member, for the person who has everything, as part of a larger gift, etc. It's a win, win for everyone! Also, the program is taking place just before holiday time. Please plan to shop with us. Students from our religious school will be attending at 11:30. They will be met with a short presentation. Parents are asked to join them. We hope that YOU will join us, too. Please stop by between 12 noon to 1pm (ish). Thanksgiving Day is oh so close. May yours be filled with loved ones and lots of stuffing!


Social Action Committee Chairperson

acheryl21 at

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

What’s New at Adas Emuno Religious School?

From the pages of Kadima, the Newsletter of Congregation Adas Emuno:

Religious School News 


Cantor Sandy Horowitz

Religious School Director

So what’s new at Adas Emuno Religious School?

First and foremost, this fall we welcome three new students to the Adas Emuno Religious School family: Naomi Slater is our newest Kindergarten student; Vera Lin-Alter is in first grade, and Shane Feinstein has joined the second grade. We’re so happy to have you with us!

This year I began implementing a series of regular emails to the school families, so that almost every week you can learn something about what is going on at the school
—whether it relates to school activities, to our various social action efforts, or as a way of asking for your help with a particular effort or project.

Another new effort is taking place in the classrooms. This year, each grade will be helping to lead a special holiday program. For Sukkot, our fifth graders worked with both their Hebrew and Judaics teachers as they prepared a presentation for the other grades: they built model sukkahs, learned the special Sukkot blessings as well as how to shake the lulav, and prepared trivia questions relating to the holiday. Then on the Sunday of Sukkot they visited each of the other classrooms and shared what they had learned. A good time was had by all! Next up: the seventh grade will be learning and then teaching about Thanksgiving as it relates to the Jewish concept of gratitude, and our K-1 class will help lead the upcoming school Chanukah program.


Thursday, November 10
7:30 PM School Committee Meeting

Friday, November 18
7:30PM Shabbat Family Service led by Sixth Grade

Sunday, November 27
No School–Happy Thanksgiving!

Thursday, December 1
7:30 PM B’nai Mitzvah Parent Meeting

Saturday, December 3
7:00 PM Talent Show!

Thursday, December 8
7:30 PM School Committee Meeting

Sunday, December 11
“Mitzvah Mall”

Friday, December 16
Shabbat Family Service led by the Fifth Grade

Saturday, December 24
7:00 PM Community Menorah Lighting and Chanukah Party at Adas Emuno

Sunday, December 25
No School–Winter Recess

Confirmation Class meetings: November 13, 20, December 4, 11

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Winter is Coming

 From the pages of Kadima, the newsletter of Congregation Adas Emuno:

A Message From Our President

Dr. Lance Strate

Winter is Coming

If you're familiar with the popular HBO series, Game of Thrones, then you no doubt know that the phrase, winter is coming, is the motto of the much-beleaguered Stark family. And if you have no idea what I'm talking about, I imagine that you still understand the sense of that sentence. Winter is coming, so we better prepare for it, and we better get ready to hunker down.

When the weather report says a blizzard or hurricane is coming, many of us go to the supermarket to stock up on food and water, just in case. Maybe you make sure you have candles and flashlights ready, in case the power goes out. Some of you may have even bought generators, just in case there's no electricity.

We hope for the best, but prepare for the worst. Just in case. The old Jewish saying, always keep one bag packed, may not seem all that relevant for us, living in 21st century America, but over the past two decades we have also borne witness to events that have been entirely unanticipated and without precedent. The future is always unpredictable, but maybe now a little bit more than before?

Maybe you saw the 2005 movie, March of the Penguins? What is striking about the documentary is the way in which

they huddle together to survive temperatures close to 80° below zero, protecting their eggs, and taking turns bearing the onslaught of the cold. In the Antarctic, winter is always coming.

The lesson is one of cooperation. Everyone contributes to the survival of the group. Strength comes from community.

We don't know whether the next winter will be a mild one, or one that is exceptionally cold, or how much snow will accumulate. But we know that winter is coming, and we know that some winters are worse than others.

This may all sound uncharacteristically gloomy. Usually I go on about all the wonderful things that Congregation Adas Emuno has to offer, all of our achievements, triumphs, and celebrations. And indeed these remain truly significant reasons why our congregation deserves your support. Let us count our blessings, and show our gratitude in any and every way possible.

But let us never forget that, in addition to all of the good reasons for us to choose to be affiliated with a shul, to be members of Adas Emuno, and to contribute to its survival and success, there are also reasons why we need our congregation. There are reasons why we need the warmth and the light that only Adas Emuno can provide for us. Because, sooner or later, winter is coming.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

Kurt Roberg's Yom Kippur Appeal 5777

Chag Sameach, or as we used to say, Gut Yontef!

At this time of the year, during the High Holidays, my thoughts sometimes take me back to my childhood in my German birth-town, Celle, with its very small Jewish congregation. We had no weekly Shabbat services, the only time we could gather enough men for a minyan was on the major holidays; those services were led by our cantor, who was also our Hebrew teacher.

During those years in the 1930s, under the Nazi dictatorship, there seemed to be one silent factor in Hitler’s persecution of the Jews: for those who during the early 20th century and the short-lived Weimar Republic had become very assimilated, who had virtually abandoned Judaism as their proof of "being good Germans," for them Hitler left no doubt that they still were members of the Jewish Race; even Jews who had converted to Christianity were classified as "baptized Jews". All were reminded that being a Jew was not just a religion.

As a result, the Jewish congregations became even more the central place of common interests, as well as a resource center for valuable information and guidance for Jewish families.

After Kristallnacht in 1938, as a 14 year old, I managed to escape Nazi Germany to find refuge with my uncle in Holland; but the unprovoked invasion of Holland, along with Denmark, Norway, Belgium and France by the Nazi armies in May 1940 put me again under their control.

Luckily by early 1941 I was one of the few fortunate people who managed to escape war-torn Europe during a 4-month odyssey through Western Europe. This undertaking was made possible only with the help of various Jewish organizations and congregations in Amsterdam, Berlin, San Sebastian, Lisbon and New York.

By August, after having been held at Ellis Island for 2 months, with the possibility of being sent back to Nazi Germany, I was at last admitted and found a haven in New York’s Washington Heights with my family. The Heights was then the heart of the German-Jewish refugee settlement, and again numerous newly formed congregations were the backbone of that refugee society.

After I married and raised a family, first in New York City, then in New Jersey, we were members of conservative congregations, first in Riverdale and later in Englewood; then we joined Temple Sinai in Tenafly. From there we founded the Havorah Beth Chavairuth in the late 1970s. As a congregation without any real estate or personnel, a part-time rabbi and later also a cantor, we were a tight-knit group of people with many close friendships. All the functions and work were carried out by members.

Each week we met in the home of a member family who sponsored the Friday night services on a voluntary, rotating schedule.

By the way, the weekly Oneg Shabbat celebrations became legendary—there seemed to be a good-natured rivalry in offering wonderful home made cakes, pies and other special treats. One even heard opinions that some people attended services mostly for those great onegs!

But as happens in so many congregations, over the years an aging membership brought changes and at the dawn of the 21st Century we decided that it was time to merge. Our committee selected Congregation Adas Emuno, where we would feel comfortable; and we do! As a result I have been a member of this congregation for well over a dozen years.

After having experienced several large congregations, I love the intimacy of this smaller, heimische Kehillah with its distinguished history, perhaps because that was my background in my youth; but there are more compelling reasons for my feeling of great comfort here.

As in most organizations, there are some members who are doerswho make things happenand so it is here. Under the inspiring leadership of our president, Lance Strate, the Executive officers, the Board of Trustees and our many dedicated volunteers, this congregation really functions like clockwork, without any politics or glitches—things always get done.

The spiritual guidance provided by our wonderfully gifted, versatile Rabbi, Barry Schwartz, can be at once uplifting, inspiring and informative in leading our services and the weekly Torah study sessions, that stimulate our intellectual curiosity. Our talented Cantor, Sandy Horowitz, not only has a lovely voice, as you have already heard, she is also the very able Director of our Religious School.

Well, I have given you some background on this congregation and of my own history, but only to show you why I feel so strongly about the importance of having the support of a well-functioning congregationin good or in challenging timesa Congregation that cares about you and your family.

The family has been the nucleus of Jewish Life since time immemorial. I have mentioned the dedicated leadership of our congregation that is here to serve your needsthe spiritual or educational requirements of your family. And yet, after all those organizational necessities that make it possible, the most important part of our congregation is each one of youtogether we are the congregation and as such we can share each others support. Understandably, some cannot devote as much time as other members, but we appreciate everybody’s support in any formnot only with your annual dues, but also by possibly supporting some of our special projects or by celebrating family events with additional contributions of tzedakah.

The old synagogue in which I grew up dates back to the year 1740. It is the only one in all of Northern Germany that escaped total destruction during Kristallnacht. At its door still stands a tzedakah box made of stone and iron, for charitable contributionsthat age-old Jewish command for support of the community and its needs.

That tzedakah box of old has now, in our time, been replaced by a special envelope that you have received today.

Please consider your most generous High Holiday donation and return it in that tzedakah box envelope.

On behalf of the entire congregational membership, as the recipients of your kindness, I want to thank you.

Shanah Tovah!

Friday, October 28, 2016

Rabbi Schwartz's Sermon for Yom Kippur 5777




Sometimes you read a story, and it just grabs you. In my case that means: It’s going to end up in a sermon. The really good stories end up in the really big sermonson the High Holidays. Last year it happened not once, but twice. On Rosh Hashanah, you may recall, it was the story of Gus Newman, the young autistic boy whose best friend was Siri. On Yom Kippur it was the story of Zion Harvey, the young boy who became the first child to receive a bi-lateral hand transplant.

Well, back in July, on my birthday it so happens, I read the story of Ben Wichmann. And I knew it would end up in sermon. So here it is.

Ben’s full name was Bernhardt Wichmann III. As the reporter who told his story wrote, "Sounds like an old-money name for sure, but any money ever attached to it was no longer visible." In fact, Ben Wichmann was an indigent Korean War vet who died in Manhattan this summer at the age of 84. He came to New York from Davenport, Iowa and worked for a time as a draftsman. He never married. He had no family. He lived in a tiny third floor room on E. 74th St.

Long ago Ben lost his one sister, lost his job, lost his possessions. And Ben lost one other thing: his voice. In 1983 he had polyps removed from his larynx. He hadn’t been able to speak since. Neither Ben nor his doctors really knew why.

When Ben Wichmann died in his room on July 7th there was no relative to bury him. One might have expected a pauper’s funeral, with no one present. But that was not the case. Ben Wichmann was buried, as a veteran, at Calverton National Cemetery on Long Island, with an honor guard detail. Present that day were Jorge Grisales, the night doorman at the Mayfair apartment building on E. 74th St, with his wife and children. Present was Juan Arias, the day doorman, with his wife. Present were two other women from the neighborhood.

You see, without anything, without even a voice, Ben touched the lives of the people around him, the 200 block of E. 74th Street. Ben, it seems, was a man who radiated happiness. Ben nodded and smiled. Ben petted people’s dogs. Ben gave little gifts, Ben communicated with written notes. He always drew a smiley face after his name. Ben struck up a friendship with Jorge and brought him coffee and a Spanish newspaper. Ben tutored Jorge in English. If Jorge mispronounced a word, Ben would write how to say it. He marked which syllables to emphasize. He wrote down other words that rhymed with it. Ben did all kinds of little things that brightened one’s day.

Jorge and Juan gave Ben shirts and shoes. Jorge had him over for Thanksgiving. Joan Gralla, who lives near the Mayfair, gave him sweaters and hats. She found out that he loved opera. Once a year she got him a ticket to the Metropolitan Opera. Ben would dress up in his best clothes and have the time of his life. "Ben was just magical in bringing out the best in people," Joan said.

Less than a year before he died Ben was having hallucinations and went to a Veterans clinic, where he had an MRI. Nothing was found. Unfailingly courteous, Ben mouthed the words "thank you" to the technician. Except he heard his voice saying those very words! Ben Wichmann could talk again. One of the first things he did was ask to use a phone, He called Jorge Grisales. "Hi Jorge, it’s your friend Ben," he said. The voice was deep and gravelly. A puzzled Mr. Gisales said, "I have one friend with that name, and he can’t talk." "This is him," Ben said. "Your friend. I can talk."

The word spread down E. 74th St. But as reporter N.R. Kleinfield wrote, "Miracles have expiration dates. They can come mercifully fast. For years, Ben had prostate cancer. It had been in remission, but it returned and was spreading." A few months later Ben was in the hospital and then a nursing home. The doorman went to visit to cheer him up. He cheered them up. In a few months he was gone.

It is said that Ben Wichmann was the man who lost his voice and found it again. But in truth, Ben never lost his true voice, just his speaking voice. That’s because Ben’s neshama, his soul, his essence, always shone through. That’s because Ben’s menschlekeit, his goodness, was never obscured.

The title of the July 29th New York Times story was A Voiceless Man Whose Spirit Spoke Volumes. Ben had nothing, yet touched everyone.

The title of this sermon is Finding Your Voice. His story told, permit me a few more minutes to reflect on Ben’s legacy.

There’s a famous story in the Bible about the prophet Elijah. Elijah was a fierce prophet, full of zeal to do battle against idolaters, but also, it seems, very self-righteous. When Elijah is fleeing from the wicked Jezebel he protests his innocence to God, and is overcome by fear and despair. God sends him on a journey deep into the wilderness. Elijah takes refuge in a cave. "Come out," God calls, "and stand on the mountain before the Lord."

We read in the Book of Kings (19:111-12): "And lo, the Lord passed by. There was a great and mighty wind, splitting mountains and shattering rocks
but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind, an earthquakebut the lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake, firebut the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire, a still, small voice.”

The still small voice of the Torah has been identified as the voice of God, or the voice of conscience
or both. It was the soft but insistent voice that humbled Elijah and reanimated Elijah to return to his prophetic quest. It is the voice that Ben spoke when he had no audible words. It is our inner voice which gives rise to our outer voice. It is the spark that illuminates our soul and ignites our action.

And of course there is another famous prophetic passage, one that we read this morning, because it is from the haftarah for Yom Kippur. "Raise your voice like a shofar," cries Isaiah. "Unlock the shackles of injustice; loosen the ropes of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free. Share your bread with hungry, and bring the poor into your house."

In treating others in the best way he knew how, and in bringing out the best in those he touched, did not Ben Wichmann awaken us and stir us and raise his voiceless voice like a shofar?

Can we too find our voice and proclaim it like a ram’s horn.

You know, when I was originally typing that last line, a funny thing happened. A typo. Instead of typing voice, I typed vice. There is just a one letter difference. All too often we are adept at finding our vice, not our voice. We are expert at sinking to the lowest common denominator rather than rising to the highest common denominator. We speak when we should be silent; we are silent when we should speak.

When Moses was coming down the mountain with the Commandments, he and Joshua heard voices coming from the Israelite camp below. The Book of Exodus recounts that when Joshua heard "the boisterous voice of the people," the commotion really, he said, "There is a cry of war in the camp." Moses listened and then said, "It is not the voice of triumph, or the voice of defeat. It is the sound of celebration." The problem was, it was the celebration of the golden calf. In the absence of Moses, the people had gone astray. They had listened to the wrong voice, and then given voice to their doubt and faithlessness. How quickly they had forgotten the commanding voice of Sinai. Vice, not voice.

Ben’s story also affirms that each of us has a unique voice. The Torah affirms that too. Remember when Jacob tries to impersonate his brother Esau before his father. He knows that his voice will likely give him away, so he wraps his hands and neck in goat skins to mimic his brother’s rough and hairy skin. Blind old Isaac responds, "The voice is the voice of Jacob, yet the hands are the hands of Esau." We’ll never know if the aged patriarch was deceived by letting his sense of feel prevail over his hearing… or if he willingly went along with ruse, knowing full well that the younger was attempting to steal the firstborn’s blessing.

The voice is the voice of Jacob. No two voices are alike. Each of us is uniquely bestowed with the gift of speech. How will we use it?

Allow me to conclude with two final reflections. The first is personal. You may recall that I did something highly unusual at the end of last year’s Yom Kippur sermon, The Work of our Hands, about the story of little Zion Harvey. I dedicated it to my wife Debby, because she is a hand rehabilitation therapist who helps restore the gift of our hands to those who have lost it. I dedicate this sermon to my daughter Talia, who is a speech therapist. She works in the acute trauma unit of Columbia Presbyterian Hospital, across the river, She helps restore the gift of our voices to those who have lost it. I am so proud of her.

And this: a coda to the life of Ben Wichmann. At his funeral, with full military honors, an American flag was folded and presented, as is done for all who have served our country, Except... there was no relative to receive it. It was accepted, instead, by his friend, the doorman Jorge Grisales. Jorge has ordered a frame for the flag, with Ben’s name, and his date of birth and date of death. He intends to hang it on the wall in his home, in a place where all will see it. Then, when someone notices it, he will sit them down. And tell a story. The story of a voiceless man whose spirit spoke volumes. The story of a voiceless man who helped us find ours. The story of a man.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Rabbi Schwartz's Sermon for Kol Nidre 5777




Let’s face it—the High Holy Days are when we are supposed to talk about what we don’t want to talk about.

It’s when we are supposed to confess our sins. No, that is not a Christian thing. It’s a Jewish thing. We were doing so a thousand years before Christianity was born. We no longer sacrifice goats. We use our words. Like our mothers taught us: Use your words. In the synagogue we use a lot of words. We confess ritualistically, through prayer.

One of those prayers, which we will recite on Yom Kippur, is called Ashamnu. You may have said it many times over the years without realizing that it goes in alphabetical order. The first letter of every sin goes straight through the aleph-bet from aleph to tav. The translators of the Reform prayer book wanted to replicate that in English. They got all the way to X and then said, "What sin begins with X?"

Well, it turns out that some smart guy realized that there is a very real, very significant sin that starts with X. It’s not a word you hear that often, unless you are preparing for the SATs or for a championship Scrabble tournament. But it’s a word we should all know. It’s a problem that we are all dealing with. It’s so important that I am devoting a whole sermon to it. The word is xenophobia. It means fear or hatred of the foreigner or stranger.

We live in xenophobic times. Yes, I know that immigration has been an issue throughout American history, and world history, but I do not recall it ever being more so in my lifetime than now.

Can we deny that it is a huge factor in our current presidential election? Can we deny that it is a huge factor in Brexit
the UK’s momentous decision to leave the European Union?

Can we deny that it is a huge factor in the global rise of right-wing, so called populist movements in Greece, Hungary, Austria, France, Russia… and even Israel?

The call to halt migrations
the call to build walls the call to ban Muslims… are birthed by real issues… but the radical solutions are driven by a phobiaan unreasonable fear or hatredthat clouds our mind and distorts our judgment.

Our history and our heritage have a lot to say about this. That is what I want to talk about this evening. At another time we might examine the economic and political factors responsible for the rise of xenophobia. But today I want to convey how strongly Judaism and the Jewish experience abhor xenophobia. How it contradicts the loftiest moral impulses of the Judeo-Christian heritage. How ultimately we are taught not to hate the stranger, but to love him.

Our Torah commences with the extraordinary declaration that the human being is created in the image of God.

Our Torah commands that we are to pursue holiness and that the highest expression of that holiness is to "love your neighbor as yourself."

Our Torah teaches, and this refrain repeats itself over and over again, "love the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt."

That is the classic statement of Jewish empathy. "For you were strangers." You have been there. You know what it is like. You were oppressed. You were outcasts. You know the heart of shunned and the exploited. You can more than sympathize; you can empathize because you lived through it.

I was in Egypt? I was at Sinai? How so? It’s called "corporate memory." We are part of a people that remember everything, that never forgets. As one of the people, as a member of the tribe, we are a part of that collective experience.

The whole point of the Passover Seder, arguably Judaism’s most important ritual, is to reenact the experience of liberation from slavery. And what is the single most important line of the Haggadah? B’cal dor hayav adam lirot et atmo k’ilu hu yatza m’mitzrayim. "In every generation each person must see himself as if he went out from Egypt."

K’ilu. As if. Use your imagination, your moral imagination. Put yourself in your ancestors' shoes. Don’t forget your roots, your origins, where you came from, what you went through. It explains what you are made of. It explains who you are.

In the Book of Exodus, Moses, speaking for God, says: “You shall not oppress a stranger," v’atem yadatem et nefesh hager, for you know the nefesh, the soul, the deepest feelings, of the stranger, "having been strangers yourselves in the land of Egypt" (23:9).

Again, in Leviticus: "When a stranger resides with you in your land, you shall not wrong him. The stranger who resides with you shall be to you as one of your citizens; you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt" (19:33).

Again, in Deuteronomy: "For the Lord your God… upholds the cause of the orphan and the widow, and befriends the stranger… You too must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt" (10:17-19).

Who are the strangers? They are the powerless. They are the poor. They are the marginalized. They are the immigrant. And they are the precisely the people we are commanded to help.

This summer I read a new book called The Geography of Genius by Eric Weiner. The author explores why certain times and places give rise to revolutionary creativity. One of the places he chronicles is turn-of-the century Vienna, and its greatest genius, Sigmund Freud. Weiner writes, "As an immigrant, Freud was well positioned for greatness. A disproportionately large number of geniuses were geographically displaced, voluntarily or otherwise. One survey of 20th century geniuses found that 1/5th were first or second generation immigrants."

"That dynamic holds true today,"he continues. "Foreign born immigrants account for only 13% of the US population but have nearly a third of all US patents granted. They are 25% of all US Nobel laureates."

. . .            . . .


To chronicle the contribution of immigrants to this country would take me forever. Anyone with a sense of history appreciates this. We are often called a nation of immigrants, and most of us in this sanctuary are not more than three or four generations removed from the immigrant experience ourselves. Our personal history and our people’s history and our country’s history all reinforce each other. We know the heart of the stranger for we were strangers in the land of Poland and Russia and Germany.

Back in May, President Obama gave a remarkable speech, right here in New Jersey, at Rutgers. I know at least one member of the congregation was there, celebrating her son’s graduation. I urge you to find it online and read the whole thing. It is funny and it is wise. In that speech President Obama made a point about xenophobia: "Building walls," he said, "won’t boost our economy, and it won’t enhance our security either. Isolating or disparaging Muslims… is not just a betrayal of our values, not just a betrayal of who we are; it would alienate the very communities at home and abroad who are our most important partners in the fight against violent extremism. [To] blame our challenges on immigrants, that doesn’t just run counter to our history as the world’s melting pot; it contradicts the evidence that our growth and our innovation and our dynamism has always been spurred by our ability to attract strivers from every corner of the globe. That’s how we became America. Why would we want to stop it now?"

On this Yom Kippur, let’s talk about what we don’t want to talk about. And let’s not let ourselves off too easy. The late, great philosopher Abraham Joshua Heschel said that in a democratic society, "some are guilty; all our responsible."

I would hope that we are not blatant racists. I would hope that we are not obviously xenophobic.

But so long as we leave bi-partisan immigration reform in limbo, are we not accountable? So long as we respond to the refugee crisis with a helpless shrug, are we not culpable? So long as we fail to confront demagoguery, are we not liable?

Ashamnu, bagadnu, gazalnu….

We have all committed wrongs; together we confess these sins. There was violence, weakness of will, xenophobia.

V’al kulam, eloha selichot, salach lanu, mechal lanu, kaper lanu.

For all these, O God of mercy, forgive us, pardon us, grant us atonement.

Forgive us; pardon us, grant us atonement… and spur us to new resolve and new activism in this new year.