Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Report from Jerusalem

Dear Friends, Shalom From Jerusalem! As is always the case with Rabbinic missions to Israel, our days haver been filled to the brim with briefings, classes and meetings. We have been in Israel for about a day and a half. Already we have done more than most people do in a week. Here's a brief rundown: Upon arriving at Ben Gurion Airport, our group travelled to the Ministry of Defense where we received high level briefings from Major General (res.) Udi Shemi - Director General of the Ministry of Defense and Amos Gilad - Director of Policy and Political-Military Affairs at the Israel Ministry of Defense. While I cannot share all of the information we received at this briefing due to space and security constraints, one of the key messages we left with was that Israel is currently in the midst of a period of strength and safety. On many fronts, things are going very well. BUT - the forecast for the future is shaky. The reality of a Nuclear Iran looms large on the horizon. This was not news to any of us. What was very interesting, however, was the fact that, in the list of all of the security challenges that Israel is currently facing: - Iran - the "Arab Spring," - Syria, - Military Aid, - changing relationships with Turkey - attempts to delegitimize Israel around the world - to name a few For the first time, in a long time, the Palestinian issue was not on the top of the list. This doesn't mean that it is not important or that facts on the ground might not change, but it would appear that, from a strategic point, the IDF feels that the greatest threats that Israel are facing are more global than local. While the situation is difficult, we left our meeting feeling that Israel is prepared for whatever contingencies might arise. After our briefing, we travelled to Jerusalem where we met with JErry Silverman, CEO of the Jewish Federations of North America. He gave us a progress report on the impact that Jewish communities across the United States are making on addressing the many issues that confront the JEwish people - in America, Israel and around the world. The fact that we had just witnessed first-hand the challenges and triumphs of rebuilding Jewish life in Hungary helped us to re-connect with why it is so vitally important for Jews around the world to dedicate ourselves to ensuring a Jewish future for ourselves and those yet to come. Rabbi Foster and I will be speaking about this soon. We began our day today with a briefing on attempts to delegitimize Israel through an organized campaign of Boycotts, Sanctions and Divestments (BDS). These campaigns have had mixed results - but we need to remain vigilant to ensure that the true story of Israel and Zionism is told. We then went to a center in Jerusalem that deals with the critical issue of unemployment among young Israeli adults. We also learned more about the efforts of the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC) in the Former Soviet Union. Following this briefing, we travelled to Bet Shemesh a fast-growing community located between Jerusalem and Tel Aviv. Some of you may have read about the incidents that took place recently between a minority of Ultra-Orthodox radicals who were terrorizing a Modern Orthodox Jewish girls school. We visited with the head of the school, Pirchiya Nachmani (see picture) as well as students and parents. Pirchiya was inspiring in her description of how parents, teachers, students and community leaders all came together to fight hatred and extremism. They were determined to prevent this explosive situation from derailing their mission of teaching tolerance, faith and Zionist ideals to their students. This truly was a highlight of the trip so far. After visiting the school, we had a luncheon with leaders of the Bet Shemesh community and learned about how a rapidly growing community was dealing with the complexities of meeting the needs of multiple ethnic and religious groups - all of whom are competing for space, power and influence. We then travelled to the Kiryat Ya-arim Youth Village where we learned about a special program for high school graduates who chose to postpone their army service for one year so that they can volunteer in a social service capacity. WE met with some of these students to hear how they felt that they wanted to give back to Israeli society prior to entering into the IDF. These 17 and 18 year olds felt that they needed to revitalize the Zionist ideals of their parents and grandparents. Once again, we were moved by their passion and commitment. Tonight, we will have a panel on The State of Religion in Israel - led by leaders of different religious movements. Tomorrow, we will meet with Natan Sharansky - the Chair of the Jewish Agency for Israel. That's all for now. I look forward to the luxury of being able to sort through all of my thoughts and experiences and sharing them with you soon. Shalom! Rabbi Black

Monday, February 27, 2012

Report From The Rabbinic Mission to Budapest and Israel 1

February 27, 2012 9:00 AM Dear Friends, I am writing this blog post at the El Al Departure lounge of the Budapest airport. Rabbi Foster and I, along with 38 other Reform, Orthodox and Conservative Rabbis have just concluded the 1st leg of our trip to Budapest and Jerusalem. The past 3 days have been overwhelming. Our group, sponsored by the Jewish Agency for Israel (JAFI) and the Joint Distribution Committee (JDC), has been given a crash course in post-Communist Hungarian Jewry. We have also visited with the US and Israeli Ambassadors to Hungary, had a VIP tour of the Hungarian parliament, studied and prayed at several synagogues in Budapest, observed first hand how the Hungarian Jewish community is preserving and celebrating their heritage while, at the same time, dealing with the precariousness of living in a society that is seeing a disturbing rise in anti-semitism and far right politics. We participated in a wreath laying ceremony at the Raoul Wallenberg memorial along with a US congressional delegation, attended a special reception at the US Embassy hosted by the Ambassador and her family, learned about a unique program that brings together Holocaust survivors and Hungarian young people, visited holocaust memorials and celebrated Havdalah with a group of young Hungarian Jewish Youth who embody the concept of "Celebrate Being Jewish." ....and that's just a small taste of what we have done. This afternoon, after landing at Ben Gurion airport, we will begin the Israeli half of our trip by visiting the Ministry of Defense where we will receive a special briefing on the security situation in the MIddle East. One of the key themes that we encountered during our stay in Budapest is the way in which many young Hungarian Jews have discovered their heritage. Over and over again we heard the same story: young people discovered that they were Jewish almost by accident. Parents who wanted to shield their children from the history of oppression and persecution that was inexorably linked to Hungarian Jewish history kept their identity a secret. Often it wasn't until they were in their teens that these young people learned the truth. But what happened next was truly inspirational. Rather than allow the fact of their religion to become a burden, increasing numbers of young Jews are actively seeking out avenues to learn about and express their Jewishness. From summer camp, to religious schools, jcc's and Israel cultural centers, the Hungarian Jewish community- with the help of agencies like the JDC and JAFI - is revitalizing itself. Our group witnessed first hand a burning hunger for knowledge and a love of Judaism that neither the Nazis, the Fascists or the Communists could extinguish. Rabbi Foster and I will share our impressions soon from the pulpit. I will write more about the Israel portion of the trip when I am able. I the meantime, "Shalom M'Yerushalayim"- shalom from Jerusalem. Rabbi Joe Black.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Invocation for the Colorado State House of Representatives - February 9. 2012


Our God you have placed us in a world filled with beauty.

You have given us the ability to see, hear, feel, taste and smell Your creation.

But with these gifts come responsibilities, O God.

When we see injustice, You taught us never to be blinded by expedience.

When we hear intolerance, You taught us never to be deafened by indifference.

When we feel the sting of oppression, You taught us never to be dulled by complacency

When we taste the bitterness of bigotry, You taught us never to be lulled into the trap of dehumanization

When we smell the stench of hypocrisy, You taught us never to be fooled by the tyranny of the commonplace.

There is so much work to be done in O God! Help these legislators to use all of their senses to distinguish between the politic and the poetic, the sordid and the sacred.


May the urgency of the deliberations that will take place in these hallowed halls move beyond these rigid walls. May they provoke a visceral reaction in our society – stirring us all to strive to achieve our best and truly appreciate the many gifts you have given.

Bless these leaders and bless these proceedings with a passion for justice and a longing for righteousness.

May this day bring about change.

May this day be filled with hope.

May we all be open to Your presence.


Thursday, February 2, 2012

Opening Prayer – Colorado State House – February 2, 2012

Opening Prayer for the State House of Colorado

February 2, 2012

Rabbi Joseph R. Black – Temple Emanuel - Denver


Our God and God of all people,

God of the strong and God of the weak.

God of the fortunate and God of the tormented

God of those who have no God.

Bless our doubts, O God. Bless our second guessing.

Bless our mortality and bless our frailty.

Help these legislators to ask important questions of one another – and, most importantly, of themselves.

Help them to win the battles towards which they have dedicated their office.

Help them to lose their battles with grace and understanding.

May the spirit of compromise infuse these proceedings and triumph over partisanship

May the passions that arise in the midst of debate be only for the sake of the good of our nation, our beautiful State and the communities from which these dedicated men and women have been selected to serve.

Grant us all the courage to grow, to learn, to laugh at ourselves and to see the holy in every person who enters these hallowed halls.

Keep us humble God – Keep us humble.

But push us also to strive to see the holiness that You have implanted within every human being.

We are nothing but dust and ashes. We are little lower than the angels.

Help us to live within the balance of our limits and our legacy.

May this be a day of new beginnings. And let us say: AMEN