Monday, January 21, 2013

Praying at the State House Redux.

Once again, I have been asked to deliver an invocation every Thursday during the legislative sessions at the Colorado State House of Representatives.  My first prayer is the day after tomorrow. When I was approached last year, I wasn't sure that I wanted to do it. I was uncomfortable with the concept of prayer in the political realm. I firmly believed then (and I still do now) that Church/Synagogue and State need to be separate entities. I felt that the act of offering up a prayer in Governmental chambers was inappropriate.  Nonetheless, with all of my misgivings, I decided to give it a try.

After a few weeks of writing and delivering these blessings, I began to feel differently about my prayers.  I found that many of the people in the House – representatives, clerks, visitors and staff – truly appreciated my words.  On several occasions people asked me for copies of my remarks.  They told me that those few moments of reflection and contemplation were an important part of their spiritual life and that they helped them to begin their day by centering themselves.  My words reminded them of the sacred tasks for which they had been sent to the House in the first place.  From a practical perspective, I also knew that my voice could be a counter-balance to other, more fundamentalist types who wanted nothing more than to tear down the sacred barrier between religion and government.

But what truly surprised me was when I discovered that the weekly process of writing a prayer became a powerful tool for my own spiritual practice.  The act of writing a prayer that was to be delivered to men and women who had the power to create and enact legislation that could change our society for the better forced me to focus on what was important in my life.  Each week I challenged myself to focus on those areas in my life that I felt needed to be strengthened.  In my addresses, as I urged the legislators to see the men, women and children whose lives could be impacted by their actions, I too found myself looking harder at every aspect of our society who needed help - whose lives were hanging by a thread and who could be served by creative, bold, thoughtful and decisive legislation.

And so, I ask all of you who might be reading this blog to let me know if there are any topics or themes that you would like me to address in my weekly invocation.  I don’t want to be political – that is not my role – but if there are words or thoughts that you would like your elected representatives to hear, let me know.  I can’t promise that I will use them – but I certainly will take them to heart.


Rabbi Joe Black

Sunday, January 20, 2013

What An Amazing Shabbat Morning!!!

This past Shabbat morning, I was in heaven.  When I arrived at the Temple building, there was commotion and chaos everywhere I looked.  Poor Francisco – one of our our hard-working custodians - was working overtime – and doing a great job!. It seemed like every room in the building was occupied.  They were.  You see, we were hosting the NFTY (North American Federation of Temple Youth) Winter Chavurah.  Over 200 teenagers from Missouri, Kansas, Southern Illinois, Colorado and Nebraska had come to Temple Emanuel to learn, pray, sing, socialize make new friends and rekindle old relationships and have fun.  And boy were they having fun!

But it wasn’t only the fact that the NFTY kids were in the building that made me so happy.  On that morning we also had Torah Study, Adult B’nai Mitzvah class, Young family (Tot) Shabbat, a bar mitzvah and our community Shabbat service.  The building was filled to the brim and humming with Jewish energy. And that’s the way it should always be.

When I came to Temple Emanuel two and a half years ago, I was tasked by the Board of Trustees with creating a new vision for Jewish life in our congregation that built upon the tremendous legacy of Rabbi Foster.  Janet Bronitsky and I worked with a marketing firm to come up with the phrase:  “Celebrate Being Jewish!”  But to me, this is more than a marketing campaign – it’s a mission – a way of life.  As I said on Rosh HaShanah this past year, if we are truly to succeed in uniting our large and diverse congregation, we will need to ensure that there are multiple portals of entry into Jewish life – so that everybody will feel welcome and have a place. 

The energy that filled our building last Shabbat was exactly what we want to sustain every week at Temple Emanuel.  We are constantly striving to create opportunities for every member of our sacred community to find their place.  We will soon be announcing a major Shabbat initiative that will take place this Spring – watch your bulletins, mailboxes and email for more information.  I can’t wait to see what next Shabbat will look like…..
Rabbi Joe Black