Celebrating a bar or bat mitzvah is a unique and special time in the life of a child, family and community. Having experienced it personally (30 years ago!), as a father and as a congregational rabbi, I can attest to the transformative power of the ritual. The ability to recognize and celebrate a child as they enter into their teenage years, the ability for parents to see their child growing and maturing, and the ability of a community to see one whom they have nurtured come into their own, is very powerful.
Six weeks from now when the world and the Jewish People experience another Rosh Hashanah, we will stand before God and celebrate the creation and continued existence of the world. Again and again we will address the Creator as Avinu Malkeinu – Our Father Our King. But why do we need to reference God in this repetitive fashion? What is the difference between God as father and God as king? – For one, a king maintains a static relationship to his subjects, whereas a father’s children are always growing and maturing, thus the nature of the relationship develops dynamically over time. The import of that dynamic is strikingly set forth in this week’s Torah portion, Parshat Ekev.
“Are you an angry feminist?”
Last night marked the beginning of the holiday of Tu B’Av. If you’ve never heard of it, you’re not alone. I only learned about Tu B’Av when I lived in Israel in 2003-2004, but it turns out that the holiday has been around for hundreds of years. Today it is often referred to as “the Jewish Valentine’s Day” because it celebrates love. In the times of the Talmud, the rabbis tell us it was when Jewish women went dancing in the vineyards, and unmarried men went to the fields to find a wife (and we think online dating is interesting!).
Each time my wife and I think we have moved past one parenting issue, a new one arises. Our son starts sleeping a little better? Then meals become a challenge. Our daughter starts listening better? Welcome to potty training!
It feels almost cliché to say that I have loved watching Women’s Gymnastics during these 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. I can raddle off the names of the “Final Five” like they are my best friends, (Aly, Gabby, Madison, Simone, and Laurie) and have eagerly looked forward to seeing them flip and twist and fly through the air each night. I am especially proud to see a racially representative group of women competing on behalf of a country that is so deeply divided. I have cheered and yelled and cried and kvelled for these incredible athletes as they have achieved super-hero status and celebrity.
Reasonable risk seems like an oxymoron. I checked a list of examples to see if it appeared, beside “open secret” or “small crowd.” I couldn’t find it, so I decided to coin the phrase yesterday, on the first day of school.
Or Shalom, Vancouver’s East-Side Shul, the synagogue I serve as spiritual leader, is a community of 200 households that has raised funds and the volunteer enthusiasm to sponsor four refugee families, including eight children. Three Kurdish Syrian families remain in harms way in Turkey and Northern Iraq, but one family, an LGBT couple from Iraq, has finally, finally arrived after a long journey from Beirut to Cairo to Toronto to Vancouver. Our sponsorship is the result of a fundraising effort that quickly and easily raised more than the synagogue’s annual campaign total, and a great deal more in in-kind donations, from embroidered pillow cases to used cell phones to furniture to reduced residential rent, as well as donations of time. A resettlement team has formed around each family.
Towards the beginning of the Tractate Berachot (27b-28a) in the Talmud, there is a story about Rabban Gamaliel (the second one, the first person to lead the Sanhedrin after the fall of the second temple) in which he repeatedly humiliates one of his colleagues, Rabbi Yehoshua, leading to Rabban Gamaliel’s removal as head of the community. The whole of the story is scattered throughout the talmud, but as one follows it throughout the various sections, it is clear that Rabban Gamaliel is engaged in a protracted fight over the leadership of the community and which direction it will go in the future.