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Saturday, September 13, 2014

Temple Emanuel, Denver's 5775 Rosh HaShanah Video is online!

Each year, our congregational staff creates a new video for Rosh Hashanah.  Here is this year's artistic triumph.  Feel free to share on your Facebook pages and other social media.  Shavuah tov and Shanah Tovah!


Welcome to Emanuel Rosh HaShanah

(To the tune of “Hotel California.)
Lyrics - Rabbi Joe Black

On a Hilltop side street
A mile high in the air
Stands a wonderful Synagogue
Filled with hope, joy and prayer.
There are so many people here
On a normal weekday
But soon we’ll be overflowing
On the first of Tishrei.
Two Rabbis and two Cantors
And a Rabbi Emeritus
Plus a staff that’s amazing
We hire only the best.                                         
We’re getting ready for the New Year
No time to delay
And when the shofar is sounded
You can hear us say:
Welcome to Emanuel Rosh HaShanah
Such a Holy Day…. (Such a Holy Day)
Such a Holy Day.
Seek teshuvah at Emanuel Rosh HaShanah
It’s the Jewish way – when we sing and pray.
We’re vacuuming the hallways
And putting books on the shelf.
‘Cause we know that our synagogue
Won’t get clean by itself.
We dip the apple in the honey
What a special treat
We wish each other Shanah Tovah
May the New Year be sweet.

So many different options
To pray like a good Jew
We’ve got Rosh HaShanah Unplugged
And Shema Koleynu
You can go up to Shwayder
And pray at 10,200 feet
Our cantors and our choir will be singing
Our joy will be complete.

Soon we’ll all be together
As we greet the new year
If you’re looking for a spiritual home
You can find it here.
And with all the changes occurring
One thing you can believe
Once you check out Emanuel
You’ll never want to leave.



Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Four Weeks of Elul 5774 Week Three: Personal and Professional Relationships

Dear Friends,

I have heard from many of you that you found the questions for the first two weeks of Elul meaningful. I’m glad to hear it.  For this next week, I want us to focus on the personal and professional relationships in our lives.
Our tradition teaches that on Yom Kippur the sins we have committed against God will be forgiven if we are truly repentant. The sins we commit against others, however, cannot be forgiven unless and until we have asked those whom we have wronged to forgive us.   In many ways, this is one of the most difficult aspects of Cheshbon Ha-nefesh – taking an inventory/accounting of our souls.  It means that we have to take risks by reaching out to others.  We may encounter resistance, anger, or resentment.  Sometimes it is impossible to reach out to others – and yet, it is our duty to do all that we can to assess whether or not reconciliation is possible.  If there is even the slightest hope then we need to try - even if we fail.
Each of us is involved in many different kinds of relationships – from families and loved ones, to work associates, to acquaintances we see only occasionally.  Our tradition teaches that every person with whom we come in contact reminds us of the fact that all humanity is created in the image of God.  As such, all of our interactions with others – from the most intimate to the merely mundane – contain the potential for holiness.  If we approach them from this perspective, maintaining healthy relationships takes on a sacred dimension.
The following questions are designed to make us think about the current status of the many different relationships in our lives.   Again, this is by no means a complete list.  Hopefully it will provide you with a starting point for improving the relationships in your lives.
1.      Have I taken part in any business or personal transactions this past year that were against my religious, moral or ethical principles?
2.      Have I ignored or been impatient with those I love the most?
3.      Are there people I have wronged that I need to ask to forgive me?
4.      Will I be able to forgive those who come to me to ask for my forgiveness?
5.      Have I taken time recently to let the most important people in my life know how much I care about them?
6.      Have I done all that I could to repair damaged relationships in my life?
7.      How have my actions towards others influenced their opinions of me?
Again, I welcome your comments and suggestions for additional questions and formats that we can use.   If answering them causes you to want to speak to one of the Temple clergy, Rabbi Immerman, Cantors Heit and Sacks and I would welcome the opportunity.  Note that all of these materials will also be available in hard copy at the Temple Office. If you know of anyone else who might want to receive these mailings – whether or not they are members of the congregation, contact the Temple and we will send them to you.
L’shanah Tovah U’metukah – May you have a good and sweet new year,
Rabbi Joseph R. Black

Monday, September 1, 2014

4 Weeks of Elul 5774: Week Two: Our Communal Lives

Dear Friends,

Over the course of the Yamim Noraim – the High Holy days – this year you will be hearing a lot about the concept of Engagement.  At our Annual Meeting this past May, our president, Ellen Abrams, spoke about the concept of Audacious Hospitality.  What do these two concepts mean and, more important, how do they relate to our lives?

Engagement refers to the many ways that we can be involved in our community.  The technological advancements that we take for granted in our everyday lives have made it possible for us to communicate instantaneously with one another.  We have access to unlimited information.  At the same time, however, these gifts come with a price.  Too many of us are feeling isolated.  We can communicate with anybody – and yet, our methods of communication all too often are impersonal and insulated from real human connection.  It is within the context of the Synagogue community that we have the ability to interact and bond with others on a higher spiritual plane.

Audacious Hospitality is a way of seeing our community through the eyes of each person who walks through our doors or is connected to us through membership, life-cycle or common concerns.  It is up to all of us – lay and professional – to ensure that every person who comes to Temple Emanuel not only feels welcomed, but they also should feel like they are a part of our sacred community.

As we enter into this second week of Elul, let us focus our High Holy Day preparation on the role that community plays in our lives – and the important ways that all of us contribute to creating a loving community.

The following questions can help you to center your Elul preparations on how you can make a difference for good in your congregation, community and, indeed, the world itself.  Again, this is by no means a complete list.  Hopefully these questions will provide you with a starting point for examining and improving your relationship with the Jewish community.

1.      Have I taken advantage of all that my congregation and community have to offer?

2.      Have I allowed my political differences with others to isolate me from those with whom I disagree?

3.      Have I taken my own comfort for granted and “looked the other way" when I saw poverty or despair in my community?

4.      When asked to help support the important institutions in my community, have I given as much as I could or should?

5.      Have I spoken out when I perceived discrimination or inequity based on economics, ethnicity, religion, gender or sexual orientation in our community?

6.      Have I been vocally supportive of Israel during her time of need?  How have I dealt with those whose attitudes vis-à-vis Israel are different from mine?

7.      When I am at synagogue, have I done all that I can to make others feel welcomed in the same way that I want to feel welcome?

Again, I welcome your comments and suggestions for additional questions and formats that we can use.   If answering them causes you to want to speak to one of the Temple clergy, Rabbi Immerman, Cantors Heit and Sacks and I would welcome the opportunity.  Note that all of these materials will also be available in hard copy at the Temple Office. If you know of anyone else who might want to receive these mailings – whether or not they are members of the congregation, contact Janet Bronitsky -
L’shanah Tovah U’metukah – May you have a good and sweet new year,

Rabbi Joe Black



Tuesday, August 26, 2014

The Four Weeks of Elul 5774 – Week One

The Four Weeks of Elul 5774 – Week One

My Dear Friends,

Today, August 26, 2014, marks the eve (Rosh Chodesh) of first day of the Hebrew month of Elul – the month preceding the High Holy Days. It is customary during this holy month to begin intensive personal preparations for the New Year. This process, called Cheshbon Ha-Nefesh – ‘an inventory of our souls’ – requires that each of us engage in a process of self-examination. We need to look closely at our relationships, thoughts, deeds, fears and dreams. We do this so that we can enter into the Yamim Noraim – the Days of Awe – spiritually and personally refreshed and prepared for the process of teshuvah (repentance/returning). This is the time when our tradition teaches that we need to ask those around us whom we have wronged to forgive us for our actions. We are also commanded to forgive those who ask us as well.

As we reflect back over the past year, it is important that we put every aspect of our lives into perspective. It has become my custom, during the month of Elul to send out weekly lists of seven questions (one for each day of the week) to members of our community and to all who wish to receive them. These questions are designed to help us examine our lives in all of the varied aspects and arenas in which we live: Spiritual, Physical, Interpersonal and Communal. Hopefully, by answering these questions we will be better prepared to enter into the New Year. The purpose of these questions is not to make us feel bad or unworthy, but rather to “nudge” us into looking at these vitally important aspects of our lives. There will be seven questions in each list – one for every day of the week.

This has been a difficult summer. We have watched as Israel has been attacked – on the battlefield and in the cities and towns where missiles fall indiscriminately on innocent civilians. Israel has faced crises before. But somehow this time feels different. It is not only the Jewish State that is facing attacks, but Jews all over the world are being singled out for violence and demonization in the media, online and in the streets of our cities. As we approach the Yamim Noraim our process of Cheshbon takes on new significance as we struggle to understand our Jewish selves in light of the rising tide of Anti-Semitism that has poisoned the waters of rational discourse and contemplation.

It seems as though everywhere we look the world is in a tailspin. From the rise of ISIS in Iraq and Syria, to the riots on the streets of Ferguson, MO; from the outbreaks of Ebola in Africa to the aggressive invasion of Ukraine by Russian troops – international paradigms are shifting and standards of behavior are in a constant flux.

Our task, as we enter into this sacred time, is to try to make sense of what we are experiencing and, if we can’t do this, than at least to reconnect with our own values. This is not easy – and, truth be told, it’s not supposed to be.

I welcome your comments and suggestions for additional questions and formats that we can use.   If answering these questions causes you to want to speak to one of the Temple clergy, Rabbi Immerman, Cantor Heit, canto Sacks and I would welcome the opportunity.  Note that all of these materials will also be available in hard copy at the Temple Office.  They also will be posted on my blogs and linked to both our website and Facebook Page. If you know of anyone else who might want to receive these mailings – whether or not they are members of the congregation, please contact the Temple office and we will be happy to send them out.

Week One: Spiritual Selves

As we enter the month of Elul, we must examine our spiritual lives. Spirituality is one of those words that mean different things to different people. For the purposes of this list of questions, I want you to focus on Spirituality as referring to those aspects of your life that help you to feel connected to something greater than yourself. We grow spiritually when we feel that our lives have meaning and purpose and that we are part of a Divine Plan. The liturgy of the Yamim Noraim – the Days of Awe – is filled with the language of God’s judgment. Rather than perceive this is a negative or punitive light, try to imagine that we are being judged for the way that we fulfill the spiritual potential that God has given us.

This week's questions deal with our Spiritual Selves. During this time of Chesbon Ha Nefesh, one of our tasks is to examine the status of our relationship with God, Torah, and our own mortality. As always, the following questions should not be perceived as a complete listing – they are merely a beginning. If you have other questions that you think may help others in our community, I would love to receive them.


  1. Has my faith been shaken by the painful news of world tragedies we all have experienced over the past few weeks.
  2. When/where was the last time I felt close to God?
  3. Have I been able to catch glimpses of the Divine in the faces of those whom I love?
  4. What aspects of my personality reflect the values that I have inherited from my family? From society? From Popular culture? From my own inner holiness?
  5. When was the last time I was able to pray without any distraction?
  6. How often, during the course of the past year, have I been able to set aside my own needs for something bigger than myself?
  7. If I were put in the position of explaining my beliefs to others, would I feel comfortable in doing so?

May you utilize these and all of your questions to help you gain a better understanding of your spiritual selves.

L’Shanah Tovah,
Rabbi Joe Black

Saturday, August 16, 2014

A Summer to build Your Life On - August 15, 2014

Five years ago, when I first applied for the position of Sr. Rabbi at Temple Emanuel and was invited to come for a visit, I remember looking at the Shwayder Camp plaque in the hallway and seeing the words: 
“ A Summer to Build Your Life On…”

 I thought to myself—hmmmm, that sentence is grammatically incorrect!  It should say, “A Summer on which to Build Your Life.” 

But sentence-ending prepositions notwithstanding, that slogan will not be changing any time in the near future because Shwayder Camp values its traditions and legacies.  And I can live with that.  As a matter of fact, I can do more than live with it – I celebrate not only the grammatically incorrect slogan, but also its truth.

Shwayder camp is place where lives are built, friendships are made, God is found – in the music, the mountains, the moments of prayer and the many traditions and cherished spaces that have forged so many incredible memories over the past 65 years.

Yes, lives are built during Shwayder Summers.  Character is strengthened and Judaism and Jewish life are brought to new heights – not only because of the close proximity of the heavens at 10,200 feet, but because of that “Shwayder Magic” that is infused through ever experience and memory that thousands of campers have been blessed to receive.

Shwayder Camp is also a place where we teach our children to strengthen their relationship to Judaism and the State of Israel.  In a time when Israel is being attacked – physically, economically and existentially -- we desperately need places where we can expose our Jewish children to Israeli counselors and campers as well as providing them with multiple opportunities to learn to love and celebrate the Jewish State.

Temple Emanuel is uniquely blessed by this bequest of the estate of Maurice B. Shwayder.  Every summer, we are entrusted with the precious souls of our campers, SIT’s, senior staff and everyone and anyone who survives the drive up the camp road and enters into our sacred space in the mountains.  We do not take that responsibility lightly.  We should never take Shwayder for granted.  There are only 3 other congregations in the country that have their own summer camps.  The legacy of the past 65 summers truly sets Temple Emanuel apart.  Tonight we begin our anniversary celebration but the work of strengthening Shwayder will continue long after this weekend is concluded – through the support of everyone here, through the dedication of our Shwayder staff, the parents who send their children to camp and the donors to our Shwayder Capital Campaign who will make it possible for future generations to experience Shwayder magic. 

Tonight we will try to capture and encapsulate the love that Shwayder has generated.  At the end of our service, we should feel a profound sense of gratitude and amazement that we have been privileged to have a place to build our lives on……

Shabbat Shalom

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

I Want to Close My eyes and Cover My Ears..........

I’ve been thinking a lot about covering my ears and eyes lately – and I know I’m not alone.  It seems like every time I see, hear or read about Israel, I hold my breath.  The tragic death of hundreds of Palestinian women and children, the destruction of countless homes and infrastructure, the misery in the streets of Gaza is horrific.  At the same time, the anti-Semitic vitriol being spewed in the media and on the streets of cities around the world and close to home is paralyzing.  I read of Hamas’ use of civilians as human shields.  I see pictures of the tunnels leading from Gaza to the dining Halls of Israeli Kibbutzim.  I hear reports from friends and colleagues in Israel about terrorized children fleeing to bomb shelters and safe rooms as rockets land in their neighborhoods.  I gaze at the photographs of anguished parents who have to bury children who sacrificed their lives wearing the uniform of the Israel Defense Forces and I want to turn it all off.

But I can't.

This war has spilled beyond the physical boundaries of the Middle East.  There is no escaping the conflict – it is all consuming.   The Medieval Hebrew poet, Yehudah Ha-Levi wrote:  "My heart is in the East, and I am in the uttermost corner of the West."  His words reflect the ancient pain and longing of Jews to return to the land of Zion.  Today, although the physical distances separating the Diaspora community have not changed from the time of Ha-Levi, the reality of instant communication has brought destruction and devastation into our living rooms and computer screens. Our lives are not in danger like our brothers and sisters in Israel, but we feel the conflict, nonetheless.  We cannot escape it.  So instead of turning away, I find myself on social media platforms sharing articles from all sides of the political landscape.  As a result, my Facebook page and Twitter feed are filled with angry accusations that I am (at one and the same time) a callous enabler of the death of women and children and a disloyal Jew whose rabbinic and Zionist credentials are called into question. 

Let’s face it – defending Israel’s actions is not always easy.  In the face of the exponential death toll unfolding in Gaza, any attempts to place the blame where it belongs – on Hamas’ goal of racking up casualties to engender sympathy around the world –  can sound hollow and callous to those who do not understand the true picture.  Israel has no choice but to eliminate the sources of rocket fire and the terrorists bent on violence.  As horrific as the term “collateral damage” sounds (and is), it is a reality of modern warfare. Hamas knows this very well and they understand that every civilian death is more powerful than any missile they launch or tunnel they dig.

Our tradition teaches that the pursuit of peace is one of the most important mitzvot that we can perform.  And yet, there are times when war is a necessary evil.  The rabbinic concepts of Milchemet Mitzvah (a war which one fights after being attacked) and Rodeyf (the obligation to prevent an enemy from killing you by attacking him/her first) provide a clear justification for Israel’s engagement with her enemies.

For those who do not understand the history behind this war, Israel is easily portrayed as the aggressor.  In our sound-bite world of instant information, few people who are not invested in the topic want to take the time to unpack the decades of conflict that have led up to this point in time.  They see death and destruction and the disproportionate casualty reports and they buy into the Palestinian propaganda that portrays Israel as a demonic, colonial occupier.

At the same time, there are those among us who cannot or will not acknowledge that every casualty diminishes the image of God – regardless of who is the victim.  They refuse or choose not to acknowledge the pain and suffering of the Palestinian people.  This is wrong.  As Jews, we are taught that every human life is precious for we are all created in the Image of the Divine. In the Midrash, we read of how God rebukes the angels who rejoice in the drowning of the Egyptians in the Sea of Reeds.  “Be quiet!  My children are drowning and you rejoice?” (Talmud Sanhedrin, 39b).  Recent reports of racist mobs attacking Arabs on the streets of Jerusalem and Tel Aviv are very sobering.  While it is clear that these actions are condemned by the vast majority of Israeli citizens, they nonetheless should give us pause and force us to look at the damage that 66 years of conflict is causing to the psyche of the Jewish state.

Our task, then, is to defend Israel’s right to defend herself without losing our own humanity. If we ignore or (even worse) become immune to the tragedy unfolding in Gaza, we are like our enemies – whose leaders glorify death and suffering as a legitimate weapon of warfare.  The Jewish people know all too well the ultimate consequences of dehumanization. 

Hamas must be stopped.  Their reign of terror – on Israel and on their own people – must be ended.  But as soon as the dust has settled and this war is over, we must begin a new campaign – a campaign for a lasting and true peace.  It will not be easy to find – and it may take a new generation before it comes to fruition, but we must never stop looking for new pathways for peace.

Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

My Remarks at the Israel Solidarity Rally - July 14, 2014

Photo: ‎עם ישראל חי
JEWISHcolorado & RMRC Israel
 Solidarity Rally
Remarks for the Israel Solidarity Rally
July 14, 2014  Temple Emanuel
Rabbi Joseph R. Black
Why are we here today?  Do we really care about a conflict in a land so far away –that does not impact us directly, that is being played out on our television screens, social media, and in the press?

Aren’t there times when we get tired of all of the negativity that is directed at the State of Israel – and, by proxy, at the Jewish people? Wouldn’t it be easier if we just didn’t care? 

Wouldn’t it be easier if we just gave in and gave up?  We could walk away from our commitment to Israel and go about our safe and comfortable lives here in the Diaspora.  It would be so nice….

Of course – that is not who we are and that is not why we are here this evening.
There has always been an unbroken link between those members of the Jewish people who live in the Land of Israel, and those who live outside the land.

The Torah teaches us that this link was established from the very beginning of our history – in the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness in preparation for the conquest of Canaan.

In this week’s Torah portion – Mattot, we read about the following:

·    The Israelites are preparing to enter into the land of Canaan. 

·    The Reubenites and Gaddites tell Moses that they want to settle outside of the land of Israel.  They see the lush grass and grazing for their Cattle and they tell Moses that they will not enter into the land with the rest of the Israelites

·    Moses is not pleased:  He says to them:

  וַיֹּאמֶר מֹשֶׁה לִבְנֵי־גָד וְלִבְנֵי רְאוּבֵן הַאַחֵיכֶם יָבֹאוּ לַמִּלְחָמָה וְאַתֶּם תֵּשְׁבוּ פֹה:
And Moses said to the sons of Gad and to the sons of Reuben, Shall your brothers go to war, and shall you sit here?

In response, the Ruebenites and Gaddites tell Moses – that, even though they will not dwell in the land, they will support the troops.  In fact, they will lead the battle.  They will go in first – to support their brothers and sisters who labor for the land.
Today – we find ourselves in a similar situation.  No – we are not being asked to physically take part in battle, but, like the Children of Reuben and Gad – we need to continually affirm our connection to our brothers and sisters who are in the line of fire – those soldiers called up for battle, and the civilians who are living their daily lives – trying to find a degree of normalcy – all the while listening for the dreaded sirens that tell them to run to the nearest shelter before the rockets either land or are intercepted by the Iron Dome system. 
No – we are not in the line of fire – but, make no mistake about it, we too are at war.  Our voices are crucial.  Our presence is indispensable.   We support Israel here today – through our efforts to combat the lies and propaganda that are daily portrayed in the media, online and in the streets..
We support Israel through our lobbying elected officials and through our financial contributions.
And we support Israel through our presence – by visiting, studying, exploring and falling in love with the Jewish state.

Just yesterday – our IST students returned from an experience in Israel that they will never forget.  They explored the land.  They met Israelis.  They learned about their history and their role in building and supporting Israel – and they experienced the precariousness of daily living in Israel when rockets were fired above them by Hamas terrorists. 
A few days before our ISTers returned, Sue and I and a group of 47 members of our community also returned from a trip that, while not as intense or long as IST, also was life-changing.  We saw Israel in all of her beauty.  We also were there during tense times – when the bodies of of  Eyal, Gilad and Naftali were discovered.  We watched the anguish of an entire nation as three precious souls were laid to rest.  We learned of the horrific lynching of Mohamed Abu Khdeir and were devastated to learn that he died at the hands of Jewish extremists. 
Before travelling to Israel, I said the following to the members of our group – and I know that anyone who has travelled to Israel will resonate with my words.
“We are not travelling to Israel as tourists or as explorers – we are pilgrims.  Ours is a sacred journey.  Once you experience the reality of Israel – the beauty, the spirituality, the history – and even the tension that is a part of daily life – as a Jew = as a Zionist – you are changed forever.”
When Israel grieves – we grieve.
When Israel celebrates – we celebrate
And when Israel’s enemies rise up against her – they rise up against all of us – and we have no choice but to do everything in our power to support her.
And so, we come here today – from all different corners of our Jewish community – to show our support, our love and our determination.  Od Lo Avda Tikvateynu We have ever given up our hope.  Hatikvah Bat Shnot Alpayim the hope of 2,000 years.  Lihyot Am Chofshi b’artzeynu – beretz Tzion V’yirushalyim – to a be free people in our own land – the land of Zion in Jerusalem.
Pray for the peace of Jerusalem.  AMEN