Friday, December 9, 2016

"The opposite of love is not hate, 

it's indifference." Elie Weisel

Recently, the Islamic Center of Savannah received a threatening letter, along with several other communities in the U.S. It was written by hand and was immediately denounceed wholeheartedly by groups and individuals in our community. However, this letter reminds us here in Savannah of the threat that faces us today....... the threat of indifference. Elie Weisel reminds us of our responsibility to speak out against all threats, large or small, whether in New York City or Savannah, Georgia. As he beautifully wrote, "Wherever men and women are persecuted because of their race, religion, or political views, that place must - at that moment - become the center of the universe." 

I feel fortunate to live in a city in which clergy of all faiths band together to denounce hate and bigotry. Immediately after the hearing the news of the threat, a group of clergy from a far range of faith traditions came together to sign this letter in support of our Muslim brothers and sisters. Many of us also attended Islamic Center of Savannah's worship service on Friday and were warmly welcomed by the community. Thank you to the people of Savannah for speaking out so quickly and uniformly. Below is the letter we wrote and signed.

We all know far too well the threat that unabashed hate poses to our community, our country and our world. Throughout time, human beings have taken it upon themselves to impose their beliefs upon others, believing themselves to singularly understand God’s plan for humankind. These human beings denounce others simply for being different, for having the audacity to hold diverse opinions and beliefs.

Yet whenever hate rears its ugly head, there have been so too, human beings who have joined together in support of the persecuted, slandered, and injured. Whenever one group of people faces a threat, others rise in support. Recently, the Islamic Center of Savannah received just such a threat, one based on hate and malice. As clergy, representing various faith traditions in Savannah, Georgia, we stand side by side with our Muslim brothers and sisters today and tomorrow, as we denounce those who have threatened this house of worship and all other houses of worship. When you attack one faith belief, then you attack all people of faith.

Nobel Peace laureate, Elie Wiesel once wrote, “No human race is superior; no religious faith is inferior.” As Americans, we defend the rights of people in our country and around the world to pray in the fashion in which they choose. As human beings, we ask for people to stand up and defend the rights of others. As people of faith, we pray for the day in which hate no longer poses a threat to our world. 

Clergy of the Savannah

Arnold L. Addington

Imam Ibrahim 'Abdul-Malik
Masjid Jihad

Reverend Michael Chaney
St. Paul’s Episcopal Church

Reverend Lauren Colwell
First Baptist Church

Reverend John Finley
First Baptist Church

Reverend Daniel Firmin
Diocese of Savannah

Reverend Rachel Greiner
Memorial Health

Rabbi Robert Haas
Congregation Mickve Israel

Reverend Billy Hester
Asbury Memorial United Methodist Church

Reverend Doris Buchanan Johnson
St Peter's Episcopal Church

Reverend David Messner
Unitarian Universalist Church of Savannah

Reverend Alex T. Moreschi
St. Thomas Savannah

Reverend Hunt Priest
St. Peter’s Episcopal Church

Reverend J. Gerard Schreck
Cathedral of St. John the Baptist

Reverend Jason Talsness
Messiah Lutheran Church 

Pastor Kevin Veitinger
The Foundery

Reverend Michael White
Christ Church Episcopal

Thursday, October 13, 2016

Why is the Synagogue Holy?
(Excerpt from Yom Kippur Sermon)

It’s a wonderful feeling to come together and pray in our beautiful sanctuary tonight of all nights when many of us thought we would be praying in another building or perhaps not at all. In the book of Exodus (25: 8) God commands us saying, “Let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them,” and long ago, our congregation did as God commanded. The very first sanctuary in history was of course the Tabernacle, the traveling tent built in the desert by the Israelites, before they were able to eventually construct the Holy Temple.
According to Nahum Sarna, the Tabernacle was built, “As assurance of the continued existence of an avenue of communication with God-----some visible, tangible symbol that God remained always present in their midst.” (Exploring Exodus pg 190). We as human beings require tangible symbols to connect with God, and so eventually we began to construct synagogues as sanctuaries for individual communities. The word synagogue coming from the Greek word for “assembly.”
We as a community believe we are obligated to create space for ourselves to join with the Almighty, so when we built our beautiful Neo-gothic synagogue in 1878, we legitimately declared it holy. We now gather here in this holy edifice together on Yom Kippur in order to commune with God, alongside our friends and family, as we pray for everyone affected by Hurricane Matthew. “Let them make me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.”
Yet, I think we all understand the finer nuances of this command. In reality, our synagogue isn’t holy because of the marble-esque pillars, or the melodious organ, or the ark, or the stained glass windows, or the rug in desperate need of a change. Our ancestors in Savannah constructed a magnificent synagogue that has stood the test of time, yet we recognize that it this building itself isn’t holy, it’s a holy space because of the people inside it. As from its inception, the synagogue remains simply a holy vessel that aids us in meeting with the Eternal. The brave Jewish settlers of Savannah named our community Kahal Kadosh Mickva Israel: The Holy Congregation, the Hope of Israel in 1733, but it would be almost 100 years before we built our first synagogue building in 1820. In other words, we were a holy congregation years before we erected our first synagogue building. The building where we pray now acquired its holiness from us, the people who pray, study, schmooze, bake and volunteer inside its walls.
As human beings, we create holy space with our actions and thoughts, with our morality and goodness, with our steadfast love for each other and our panache. We create holiness within the walls of our sanctuaries, but we so too take this communal holiness out there into the world with us in our every action.  When we volunteer our time to help people in our city, we bring the congregation’s holiness with us. When we donate money for relief efforts, we bring our congregation’s holiness with us. When we leave on vacation and treat people with respect, we even bring this holiness on that vacation. How many of us made calls to check on people in our community during the last few days? How many of us have been assisting people in need in our community these past few days and plan to do more in the future? It’s our dedication to each other and to our Jewish community and our Savannah community that brings God here.

Our Low Country area has sustained damage in so many ways, and we have and will bring our Mickve Israel holiness to the Low Country when we assist our community in bouncing back. Thank you for bringing food for Operation Isaiah. I think we all know that there will be people who need it. Thank you for offering up your home as a place for people to stay. Thank you for the volunteer work you have done and will do with a variety of organizations to help our city. Thank you for helping your neighbors clean out their yard. Thank you for showing support for the men and women working in our city to fix power lines and clean up the streets. Thank for supporting our city officials and police who are tirelessly working to keep us safe during this time. We bring holiness to this building, but we also take our communal holiness out there into the world. May it be a year in which we extend the holiness of our community out farther than ever before.

Wednesday, August 31, 2016

A New Blog

A year or so ago, I dived into the Ole Bucket List and tried my hand at Stand Up Comedy. Now, I'm returning to the often forgotten list to begin my blog as "Rabbi About Town." I've written blogs while traveling around the world, but I've never put my thoughts as a congregational rabbi/recent stand-up comedian online. Along with my musings, I plan to add various videos and articles to this new blog. I hope you enjoy the ride. So, here goes......