Thursday, October 2, 2014

President Obama's Rosh Hashanah Greeting 5775

At this time of reflection and renewal, we are pleased to share with you President's Obama's wishes for the Jewish New Year and High Holy Days:

And we of course return the sentiment, and send out our best wishes to all for Rosh Hashanah, the birthday of the world!

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Rabbi Schwartz's Sermon for Rosh Hashanah Morning 5775




Fifty years ago this past June, I had just graduated from Kindergarten. I don’t know if my family went to Shabbat services on Friday evening, June 19, 1964. But if we had, my rabbi, Michael Robinson, would not have been there.

That’s because my rabbi was in jail. He was in jail in St. Augustine, Florida—the oldest city in the United States. He was in jail with fifteen other rabbis… and a minister named Martin Luther King, Jr.

Martin Luther King, Jr. had sent an urgent appeal to the Central Conference of American Rabbis meeting in Atlantic City. He asked for whoever was so willing to leave the convention of Reform rabbis and fly to Florida to join his protest. The situation in St. Augustine was ugly but critical. King knew that the hour was crucial—Congress was on the verge of deciding whether to pass the long filibustered Civil Rights Act. A dramatic statement needed to be made. King turned to his good friend, Rabbi Israel Dresner, who still resides at age 85 in Wayne, NJ. He knew that Dresner and some of his colleagues not just talked the talk, but walked the walk of prophetic Judaism and civil rights activism. They were the bravest of clergy. Of the several hundred rabbis at the convention, 16 answered the call. And my rabbi was one of them.

The rabbis wrote a letter from St. John’s County Jail that Friday morning. They explained how they were arrested the day before while praying as an integrated group in front of one restaurant and sitting at a table with three Negro youngsters at another. They continue:

We came to St. Augustine mainly because we could not stay away. We could not say no to Martin Luther King…. We could not pass by the opportunity to achieve a moral goal by moral means… which has been the glory of the non-violent struggle for civil rights. We came because we could not stand quietly by our brother’s blood.

Here in St. Augustine we have seen the depths of anger, resentment and fury; we have seen faces that expressed a deep implacable hatred. What disturbs us more deeply is the large number of decent citizens who have stood aside, unable to bring themselves to act, yet knowing in their hearts that this cause is right and that it must inevitably triumph.

The letter, entitled, Why We Went, concludes, 

These words were first written at 3:00 AM in the sweltering heat of a sleepless night, by the light of the one naked bulb hanging in the corridor outside our small cell. They were, ironically, scratched on the back of the pages of a mimeographed report of the bloody assaults of the Ku Klux Klan in St. Augustine. At day break we revisited the contents of the letter and prayed together for a new dawn of justice and mercy for all the children of God.

The St. Augustine arrests drew national attention in what would be an epic week for the civil rights movement. Later that very day the long awaited draft of the landmark Civil Rights Act passed the Senate. The Act would be signed into law by President Johnson on July 2. It is a little known fact, but one that we should take great pride in, that the Civil Rights Act, and its sister, the Voting Rights Act, were pieced together in the conference room of the Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism in Washington.

The rabbis were let out of jail just before the Sabbath. On that Sunday, June 21, three young civil rights activists, part of the famed “Freedom Riders” went missing in the small town of Philadelphia, Mississippi. Andrew Goodman and James Chaney were 21 years old. Michael Schwerner was 24. Two white men and a black man. Two Jews and a Christian.

The president ordered 200 FBI agents to search for the three. Their bodies were found six weeks later. No one in Neshoba County was prosecuted for the crime of murder. Minor charges resulted in a handful of lesser figures serving less than 6 years. Andrew Goodman’s mother Carolyn, who became an activist in her own right, summed up the view of so many when, in an interview nearly 40 years after the tragedy, she said, “All these years, I’ve been hoping there would be justice for those boys. I’m still waiting.”

I speak to you on this Rosh Hashanah of my rabbi, and the Augustine 16, and the Freedom Riders, and the Civil Rights Act… because I did not want to let this 50th anniversary of the summer of ’64 go unnoticed. I was just a kid—some of you remember those days first hand—but as you know I’m a student of history. I try not to let significant anniversaries such as this pass unheralded.

But my reason is more than a history lesson. I am haunted by the words of Carolyn Goodman, “I’m still waiting.”

It would be wrong to ignore the great progress in civil rights we have made in this country in the last half century.

It would be wrong not to celebrate the reality of a black president; a black attorney general; two former secretaries of state who were African-American, and one a female.

And whether you agree with the Supreme Court ruling of late or not, consider that three females: two who are Jewish and one who is Hispanic sit on the Court, as does an African American.

Behind these highest of profile officials are governors, senators, congressman, mayors, state and local leaders… all part of our ever diverse democracy… in a way that would have been unthinkable in the lifetime of many of us here today.

And yet Carolyn Goodman’s words echo still, “I’m still waiting for justice.”

Before his death, King was increasingly drawing attention to the link between economic inequality and racial inequality. While the ever growing gap between the “haves’ and the “have-nots” in present day America calls for, well, an entire sermon… time allows me here just a moment to reflect on the specific issue that brought King and the rabbis to St. Augustine… segregation.

As Michelle Obama recently said, “Today, by some measures, our schools are as segregated as they were back when Dr. King gave his final speech.”

That may be an understatement. Today 4 in 10 black and Latino students attend schools that are classified as “intensely segregated,” meaning that 90% of the student body is minority. Right here in New York City more than half of the public schools fit that criterion. That’s right—more than half are 90% or more black and Hispanic.

Right now in America the North is more segregated than the South, and de-facto segregation is our cities is more egregious than de jure segregation ever was in rural America before Brown v Board of Education.

Gary Orfield of the Civil Rights Project calls this a “steady and massive re-segregation” of the nation and says, “We are, step by step, returning to the 'separate but equal' philosophy that so clearly failed the county.”

And let me point out that school segregation is greatest in this country not among blacks, but among Latinos. Poverty rates in this country have risen, even though less white Americans live in poverty and less black Americans live in poverty, but since 1990 three million more Hispanic Americans are poor. The 39 million Latinos in our country now make them the largest minority. One out of four lives under the poverty line. One out of every three children is in that situation. They cut our lawns, clean our pools, wash our dishes, pick our fruit. They are the strangers among us.

Yes, we are still waiting for justice. The pioneering accomplishments of the civil rights heroes are in truth unfinished.

We are still waiting for impartial justice that serves the rich and poor, educated and uneducated, alike.

We are still waiting for unbiased justice that serves majority and minority, white people and black people and brown people, alike.

We are still waiting for inclusive justice that serves male and female, straight and gay, able bodied and disabled, alike.

We are still waiting for equality of opportunity that gives our kids a fighting chance of getting out of the neighborhoods and schools that narrow their world.

We are still waiting for the 1% to share equally in the burden of taxation that the 99% shoulder year after year.

We are still waiting for the investment in America that understands that our outer security is dependent on our inner security; that a better balance must be found, for we neglect our children and our poor at our peril.

Yes, we are waiting, but it is up to us to grow impatient, and press for the change we want to see.

One need not walk away in cynicism or despair. There is indeed a glass half full. Let us fill it until in “runneth over.” There is indeed a will toward justice. Let us pursue it until it rolls down like a mighty stream.

Consider a final time those words of the bereaved mother. Carolyn Goodman spoke those words in 2004, four decades after the loss of her son. But that same year, remarkably, the case was reopened. An investigative journalist and a professor unearthed new evidence. A reluctant witness came forward. In 2005, Edgar Ray Killen was convicted on 3 counts of manslaughter. Carolyn herself, 90 years old, took to the stand. She lived to see justice served. She died a year later.

I am reminded of King’s famous statement, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Allow me to conclude with a few words about our special responsibility concerning all this as Jews:

That old book that we read, the Torah—it is not an exaggeration to say that it is obsessed with justice: justice for the forgotten; justice for the marginalized; justice for the outsider. Thirty six times the Torah commands love and justice for the stranger….
Exodus 23:9: “You shall not oppress the stranger, for you know the soul of the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
Leviticus 14:33: “When a stranger resides with you in your land, you should 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.
Deuteronomy 10:8: [For the Lord your God] upholds the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and befriends the stranger… you too must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”
Jeremiah 7:5: “…execute justice between one another; do not oppress the stranger, the orphan, and the widow….”

Empathetic justice is arguably the central concern of the Torah and the Prophets. If you ask me, what makes Judaism so special… you just heard it. If you ask, what is our greatest message… I just quoted it. That’s what motivated my rabbi 50 years ago. And that’s what motivates us yet today.

Our ancient sages taught, 

The task is great. Lo alecha hamlacha ligmor. It is not for you to finish the work. V’lo atah ben horin l’hibatel memenu. But neither are you free to desist from it. V’ba’al habayit dohek. And the Creator is pressing. 

For we are waiting… waiting for justice.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Rabbi Schwartz's Sermon for Rosh Hashanah Evening 5775




In the year 73 CE, 960 Jewish zealots died by their own hand at the remote desert fortress near the Dead Sea called Masada.

At some time during or before the assault by the Romans, one of these zealots entered an underground storeroom. He or she went in to retreive some dates. One of these may have fallen to a corner unnoticed.

Alternatively, this man, woman, or child may have been chewing on the succulent Judean date, and spit out the seed.

In any case, the seed remained in the storeroom, for two thousand years!

In the mid ’70’s, the 1970’s CE, the seed was discovered by an archeological expedition led by Professor Ehud Netzer. Netzer duly recorded the find from level 34. He later gave the seed to Professor Mordecai Kislef, Director of Botanical Archeology at Bar-Ilan University. Kislef cataloged the seed, and locked it a drawer, where it sat for the next thirty years.

In mid-2004, Kislef received a call from Dr. Sarah Sallon, Director of the Natural Medicine Research Center at Hadassah Hospital in Jersualem. Dr. Sallon had read about the seed, and wanted to see if it would grow. Kislef laughed. Nobody had ever cultivated a 2000-year-old seed.

During World War II the Nazis bombed London’s Natural History Museum. Water used to put out the fire germinated a 500 year old seed. Decades later that record was doubled in China, where a one thousand-year-old lotus seed was successfully cultivated. The Masada seed, dubbed Methuselah (after the oldest man in the Bible) was twice as old.

Sallon gave Methuselah to Dr. Elaine Solowey, a California raised horiculture expert based at the Arava Institute for Environmental Studies at Kibbutz Ketura in the southern Negev. Solowey first soaked the seed in hard water to soften the coat, then in a mild acid rich in hormones, then in a special nutrient rich fertilizer broth, and finally, on Tu Bishvat, the new year of trees, January of 2005, in potting soil.

Six weeks later, much to everyone’s astonishment, Methuselah germinated. By June it was apparent that Methusleh would live. The Israeli government issued a press release. The wire services picked up the tale. The New York Times ran a story.

The next year Methuselah grew a few feet tall, with a dozen leaves. Dr. Soloway reported that she didn’t know if Methuselah was male or female, and wouldn’t know until the sapling is fruit bearing. If it is a male, it’s basically useless. If it’s female, and bears fruit, we may learn the secret of the acclaimed Judean date, praised in the Psalms, and known throughout the ancient near east for its flavor and texture.

A snip from Methuselah was sent to a lab in Zurich, Switzerland. Radio carbon dating confirmed that the seed was 2000 years old, plus or minus 50 years. DNA testing of a leaf confirmed that it was indeed a Judean palm, which has been extinct since the Crusades. All 7000 of the palm trees that you see in Israel today are from imported stock.

As Dr. Sallon wrote to me in an email: “you never know if our little Methuselah may possess some really exciting unmodified genes that could even have agricultural potential… anyway, that’s the idea—a return to the genetically unmodified Garden of Eden.”

I’m sharing the story of Methuselah, first, because I simply find it fascinating. As many of you know, I love archeological stories. This is my first botanical archeology story.

I was so intrigued with the whole thing that when I led a congregational hiking trip to Israel and Jordan seven years ago we stopped at Kibbutz Keturah, and said hello to Dr. Soloway and Methuselah. I have a picture to prove it.

I wrote to Dr. Soloway this summer for an update. She told me that Methuselah is now a big boy—yes, he is a male. A bit disappointing. But he has some good pollen, which will be used to pollinate current stock that will produce seeds with half the ancient genome.

For me, my visit with Methuselah had an added layer of personal significance. I was a volunteer at Kibbutz Yahel, the newly established Reform Kibbutz, just down the road from Keturah, almost 35 years ago. I was assigned to work in the date groves. You could not help admire the towering date palms laden with fruit. I also learned a healthy respect for these trees. My lowly job was to crawl underneath the razor sharp leaves of the trees’ base to change clogged drip irrigation lines. I also helped plant the first dates trees for the second Reform kibbutz nearby. By the way, Kibbutz Yahel is also where I had my first date of another kind, named Debby.

But this story captivated me for yet another reason. Methuselah as metaphor. All the headlines in the newspapers ran: “Two Thousand-Year-Old Seed Comes to Life.”

This little seed, sprouting again after two millenia, is Israel herself.

Against all odds, a modern miracle arose in our ancient homeland. I am sorry I was not alive in May of 1948 to witness this miracle. The ingathering of the exiles, the revival of a Jewish state, the rebirth of Hebrew: is there a more astounding event in all of Jewish history?

This year we celebrated modern Israel’s 66th birthday—a blink of the eye for a nation-state. But look at israel today: the little seed that could, the miracle by the Mediterranean.

What a marvel and privilege, after twenty centuries, to be able to board an airplane and eleven hours later touch down in the holy land of a sovereign Jewish state.

As Daniel Gordis, an American Rabbi who made aliyah writes after witnessing a concert celebrating Jerusalem, during the height of the intifadah:

An amazing thing—thousands of people out to celebrate a city. And it struck me. This country is an unmitigated success. It’s an achievement of cosmic proportions.

Gordis goes on to list Israel’s problems, from the economy to discrimination to war. Then he says:

But tonight, the music and the dancing remind us that those… can be fixed. Not long ago, though, there were things we couldn’t change. Without our own country, there was nothing we could do to help ourselves, to save ourselves. This is not a population or a generation that will be scared into leaving or into despair. The hope of this place runs too deep… there’s a pulse to life here that cannot [be] killed. Who would’t want to live in a place where even concerts are miracles?

After the tragic summer Israel has experienced I want all the more to echo these sentiments. I won’t be talking about politics today, though the case could be made that I should. I just want to celbrate the miracle of Israel because we are inclined to forget it.

I am pained when I see fellow Jews who look at our “miracle by the Mediterranean,” and shrug.

I’m perplexed that the majority of American Jews have never visited Israel… but London and Paris, for sure.

Is columinist M.J. Rosenberg right when he says:

[for most American Jews there is not] antipathy to Israel, but apathy. For large numbers of Jews, perhaps most, Israel is no longer a source of joy. They don’t go there. They don’t much talk about it. Israel is simply not central to their lives.

So I supose since I don’t live in Israel any more, and don’t lead trips to Israel any more, the least I can do is talk about Israel!

I can urge you to send you children, and grandchildren, on birthright—what a blessing that is.

I can urge you to make a family visit—you will never forget it. [In fact, as I was finishing this sermon, Rabbi Milstein of Temple Sinai called me, inviting anyone from our congregation to join in a family trip at the end of December. They have 20 people but need more. It's during winter break and will be a great trip.]

I can urge you to help keep that precious seed alive by implanting love for Israel in heart and soul.

So back to seeds—the imagery and the metaphor:

In a lonely corner of Cairo’s famed Egyptian Museum, amidst a crowd of stunning antiquities, is an imposing six foot high black stone obelisk. A small, smudged marker identifies it as “The Merneptah Stele.” The date is exact: 1207 BCE.

One week after seeing Methuselah in Israel, I was fortunate to see the Merneptah Stele in person.

The Merneptah Stele is actually one of the most significant biblical archeological discoveries ever made. On that slab is a royal insciption boasting of the Pharaoh Merneptah’s military accomplishments. Among them is a line that read: "Israel is stripped bare, wholly lacking seed.”

This inscription is the first archeological evidence of the existence of Israel as a nation or people, outside the bible itself.

As many have noted over the years, in one of history’s most inspired ironies, the first declaration on the Jewish people is a death knell.

Well, we are still here. The Pharoah is not. And Methuselah is still growing. Halleluyah.

But now, as then, we have no shortage of detractors. We can ill afford apathy. Israel has too many enemies and not enough friends. The soil that nutures the seed is woefully thin. The seed is strong and tough, but fragile and tender, all at the same time. The seed has its own capable defenders, who are called sabras. Yet where would Israel be without its great ally, sometimes i think its only ally, the American people? And if we are not here to rally America, who will be?

From ancient seeds, new life has sprouted.

The Psalmist celebrates:

tzadik katamar yifrach:
the righteous shall fourish like a date-palm;
planted in the house of the lord;
May Methuselah; may Israel, continue to grow tall and beautiful, and full of fruit.

And to this we say, Amen.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Shana Tova!

Congregation Adas Emuno joins together with the Jewish people all over the world in wishing you a Shana Tova! Happy New Year 5775! 

By way of celebration, here's a fun video featuring a one-man Jewish a cappella performance, All About that Rosh-Hashanah:

The video come courtesy of Matt Rissien, the Director of Youth Activities at Congregation Beth Shalom in Northbrook, Illinois.

And may you be inscribed in the Book of Life for a good year, a year of happiness and peace!

Sunday, September 21, 2014

A Congregant's Reflection Regarding Torah Study

Congregant Ludwik Kowalski offered the following reflection to share following the resumption of Saturday morning Torah study the past two Saturdays:

A reflection

Quoting Abraham Geiger, in Judaism's Great Debates: Timeless Controversies from Abraham to Herzl, our Rabbi wrote: "How much longer can we continue this deceit... presenting stories from the Bible as if they were actual historical happenings?" I was thinking about this quote during our Torah study, last year. Would Geiger criticize our attempts to interpret these stories by using modern psychological (Freudian) terms? I suspect he would say that scientific terminology should not be used to analyze legendary situations.

This of course is far from obvious. Should Biblical stories be discussed in the same way as real historical events or should they be analyzed in the same way as literary fiction? Debating true social and political situations, we usually enrich our knowledge about what really happens in our world; analyzing fiction, we usually try to understand why authors invent different characters and different situations. Today was our second Torah study meeting of the year. Suppose Geiger were with us. He would probably notice that our approach was more "historical" than "fictional." Would he find this consistent with Reform Judaism?

We are happy always to share the differing views of members of our congregation here on our blog, noting that the views expressed are those of the individual congregant, and do not represent positions taken by the congregation as a whole, its leadership or clergy.

Friday, September 12, 2014

Notes From the Cantor

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

Notes From the Cantor

I feel honored and blessed to be the Cantor here at Adas Emuno, following my ordination from the Academy for Jewish Religious last May. While I’ve been leading services alongside Rabbi Schwartz since mid-July, things will become official at the Installation Ceremony on Friday September 5th. I’ve already had the opportunity to meet many of you, and have been truly touched by the warmth–and the help!–I’ve received.

Meanwhile, the High Holidays will be upon us before we know it. It is a unique time in our calendar, and this is emphasized by the music you’ll hear at High Holiday services. A lot of the music is more formal, and many melodies are different from what you’re used to hearing on Shabbat. For a congregation as wonderfully participatory as this one, there will still be familiar music; what’s more, many of the High Holiday melodic themes are repeated throughout Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur services, and you will be able to re-familiarize yourselves with these as well. But it is also an opportunity to sit back and listen, and to let the words and music surround you as you engage in your private reflections and prayers.

Best wishes and Shana Tova Umetuka, a good and a sweet New Year 5775!

Cantor Sandy Horowitz

Wednesday, September 10, 2014

My Top Ten Reasons To Be Excited About the Coming Year at Adas Emuno


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

A Message From Our President

Dr. Lance Strate

My Top Ten Reasons

To Be Excited About the Coming Year at

Adas Emuno

Rabbi Schwartz is an inspiration to us all, in so many ways, and one of the ways that he has inspired me is his penchant for creating top ten lists. I have to admit that that sort of thing was never my cup of tea, although I have appreciated David Letterman's ability to come up with them night after night. But I do have to acknowledge that there is something about a numbered list that attracts people's attention, and they do provide a structured and organized way to convey a whole bunch of thoughts and ideas. So, I thought I'd try my hand at putting one together this time out.

And I have to tell you that I am very excited about how we have dealt with problems that presented themselves last year, and how we are poised to move forward over the coming year. So, without further ado, here are my top ten reasons why this coming year at Adas Emuno will be one of our best years yet:

1. Our new Cantor. Sandy Horowitz has already brought her musical magic to our Friday night Shabbat services for several weeks now. Our congregation has very high standards when it comes to music, and Cantor Horowitz definitely meets them, and in many ways exceeds our expectations.

2. The Dream Team. Although they have only been leading services together for a short while, Rabbi Schwartz and Cantor Horowitz are working together seamlessly, making services truly a pleasure to attend. And it has been many, many years since our pulpit has been graced by both an ordained rabbi and an ordained cantor.

3. New congregational leadership. I am positively kvelling about the infusion of energy and spirit that the newest members of our Board of Trustees, Judith Fisher, Susan Gray, Jody Pugach, Doris White, and Sandy Zornick, have brought to the board in their first few weeks as trustees.

4. And new officers. It is also so very gratifying to have Vice-President Elka Oliver and Recording Secretary Marilyn Katz providing added energy to our executive committee.

5. A new Religious School Director. Cantor Horowitz, in taking over the dual role of clergy and principal, brings to the job authority and expertise, along with a wonderful sense of warmth and openness, which is exactly what we need. Combining the two positions is part of a growing trend of installing Cantor-Educators, and through that innovation we can look forward to greater coordination between school and shul, something we have wanted to see for a long time now.

6. A new Tot Mitzvah program. We have recognized for some time now the need to strengthen our programming for families with preschoolers, and thanks to Doris White, working together with other volunteers and Cantor Horowitz, we will be launching an innovative new program this fall.

7. The return of Torah Study. What would Saturday mornings be without it? And as led by Rabbi Schwartz, our Torah study sessions are extraordinarily popular. This year we continue our focus on family narratives in the Bible, with special attention to King David.

8. The return of Adas Emuno Has Talent. Our first talent show, held in April of 2013, was an enormous success, and after a one year hiatus, we look forward to its return to our schedule in January of 2015. The event serves as a wonderful showcase for the amazing group of kids we have in our temple (and our adults aren't half bad either).

9. Poetry Garden. This summer we began to meet as a small group to read poetry out loud in the Adas Emuno garden. It has been a modest affair, but one that has generated enough interest to schedule monthly gatherings throughout the coming year, to meet in the garden if weather permits, or in the social hall. And prior to the September Poetry Garden meeting, we will also be treated to a concert in the garden courtesy of the recorder society that rents our social hall.

10. And there's more! More social action initiatives! More adult education programs! More musical events! More than I can fit into a top ten list, so I'll just say that there's more in the works, so stay tuned.

I think 5775 is going to be a breakout year for Adas Emuno, and I hope you agree with me that there's so much to be excited about. And let me take this opportunity to wish you and yours a Shana Tova, and I look forward to seeing you on the High Holy Days, if not before.