Thursday, April 21, 2016

Opening Prayer for the CO State House On The Day Before Passover

Opening Prayer for the Colorado State House
April 21, 2016
Rabbi Joseph R. Black - Temple Emanuel - Denver, CO

Tomorrow night, Jews around the world will gather together around the table to celebrate the Seder as we welcome the  holiday of Passover.   During the course of the Passover Seder, we will eat special foods that remind us of our experience with both slavery and freedom.  We will tell the ancient story of the Exodus from Egypt.

We will be reading from a book called a Haggadah.  The word, "Haggadah" means "telling the story."  As we tell our story, we move from the degradation of oppressive slavery, to the promise  of freedom and redemption.

A key phrase in the Haggadah reads:  "Bchol dor vador, Chayav Adam Lerot et atzmo k'ilu HU yatzah mi Mitzrayim" -- "In every generation, each of us is obligated to see ourselves as though we, personally went forth out of Egypt."

We are required to experience both the bitterness of enslavement and the joy of liberation.
This is not symbolic.  Throughout the course of the Seder, we taste the bitterness of slavery in the bitter herbs that we eat.  We eat the bread of affliction - the matza, and we drink the salt water of our tears.  It is only after we recount the story of our deliverance that we rejoice.

The act of experiencing the pain of oppression forces us to be mindful of all who are oppressed - not matter who they are or where they are.  Those who are oppressed because of their faith, the gender, their social status, appearance, who they love or how they love are all created in the Divine image.  We see the oppressed in far away places and literally across the street from this sacred structure.

Let us pray:

Our God and God of all people:
God of the poor
God of the rich
God of the grounded and God of the refugee.
God of the parent and God of the child.
God of the Captain and God of Captive
God of the persecuted and God of the privileged
God of those who have no God.

Tomorrow night, when so many of your Children around the world will tell the story of deliverance that is both ancient and modern, help us to remember your promises of redemption - past and future.
Teach us that it is not enough to wait for Your hand of deliverance - our mission is to BE Your hands.
Use us, O Creator, to bring about the desperately needed change in Your world.
In our nation that values freedom, open our eyes to those enslaved around us.
We see enslavement in those trafficked for evil ends on our streets.
We see enslavement in those whose ideologies cannot allow themselves to see the humanity in those around them
We see enslavement in the crippling effects of economic oppression.
We see enslavement in those who are victimized by brutal governments.
We see enslavement in those who lives are ruined by substances designed to capture the souls of despair and hunger for meaning.
And once our eyes are opened, help us to work, together, to create a society that truly celebrates the freedom that You taught us to love, to fight for and to celebrate.

On this day of deliberation, guide these lawmakers as they work on our behalf and on Your behalf.  Help them to both feel the pain of oppression and the exquisite joy of liberation.  Free them from the bonds of partisanship.  Teach them to listen to the passion of their colleagues. Open doors of dialogue and tear down the altars of diatribe.

At the end of the Seder, we say the words:  "Next Year in Jerusalem" - next year may all be free.  We pray that the vision of the City of Peace may come to be - in our hearts, our homes, our beautiful state of Colorado - and every inch of Your Creation.

Friday, April 15, 2016

My Remarks From the 2016 Annual Meeting

Annual Meeting – April 15, 2016
Rabbi Joseph R. Black

Dear Friends,

In the Jewish mystical tradition, numbers have important significance.  The ancient practice of Gematria involves taking the numerical value of words and phrases and finding hidden meaning in these numbers.  Since tonight is the 141st  annual meeting of Temple Emanuel, I thought I would try to find some significance in the number 141.  Looking into the torah, I discovered that the Hebrew word, Malachim adds up to 141. 
Malachim are Angels.  On Friday night, we sing the song, “Shalom Aleychem” where we welcome God’s divine angels who descend to earth to bring us the peace of Shabbat.  But Malachim are not only angels, they also are messengers.  The Jewish concept of angels differs somewhat from the commonplace understanding of cherubic winged messengers that we find in many Renaissance paintings.  In Jewish tradition , Malachim serve the function of being God’s messengers.  I like to think that all of us, at some point in our lives, can serve the function of being an angel – making connections here on earth between God and humanity.

Jacob, in his dream at Beth El, saw Angels coming and going – ascending and descending – on a ladder to the heavens.  In many ways, this past year was filled with many comings and goings as our congregation went through many important transitions.
·         We have said goodbye to long-time and beloved members of our community and professional staff and welcomed new members. 
·         We initiated a major overhaul of our internal workings – shifting responsibilities and creating new positions – preparing for next year which will continue these transitions.
·         We have had the sad task of burying beloved members of our community and comforting bereaved families
·         We have welcomed babies into the world and celebrated new life
·         We welcomed scholars and artists including: 
o   April – 2015 – Nashir Songleader workshop
o   Jonah Pesner – Scholar in residence
o   Ellen Allard
o   Rabbi Daniel Freelander – Scholar in Residence
o   Four Telling:  Julie Silver, Beth Schafer, Miuchelle Citrin and Peri Smilow
o   Noah Aronson
o   EJ Cohen
o   Rabbi Angela Buchdahl – Sr. Rabbi of Central Synagogue – taught, sand and helped to install Cantor Sacks

We instituted a new format for professional working teams at Temple
·         The Clergy Team – Led by me.
·         The Learning and Engagement Team – Led by our new Director of Learning and Engagement, Zach Rolf
·         The Operations Team  - Led by my co-CEO and Executive Director, Steve Stark
We created new Task Forces to explore important aspects of our community.  These included:
·         B’nai Mitzvah
·         Building
·         Education/search committee
·         Preparing for New Machzorim (High Holiday Prayerbooks)
·         ECC BUILD Campaign – working with the Rose Foundation and other Early Childhood Centers in our community to enhance our ability to meet the needs of this vital population.
We instituted multiple listening campaigns to find ways to increase our ability to achieve excellence and instill best practices in the following areas:
·         Education
·         Engagement
·         Operations and Budget

Sue and I led Congregational Trips to:
·         Cuba
·         Israel

I travelled to Israel with a select rabbinic delegation from AIPAC geared towards engaging progressive rabbis from around the country. AIPAC – Havdalah

I was involved in the community in the following areas:
·         RMRC (Rocky Mountain Rabbinical Council) Presidency
·         House Chaplain – I continue to serve in the Colorado State House of Representatives – delivering a prayer every Thursday morning during the legislative session.
·         Faith Spokesperson – I work with the Colorado Interfaith Alliance as a spokesperson for social justice.
·         I serve on the Board of Jewish Colorado
·         I serve on Governor Hickenlooper’s Clergy Advisory Council
·         I serve on the ADL Board
·         I continue to Teach for RMRC’s community-wide Introduction to Judaism program.

Life Cycle
As your Rabbi – I, along with my clergy colleagues am privileged and sometimes burdened with the task of helping facilitate these transitions in the life of our congregation.

If malachim are both Angels and messengers, we are so fortunate to have dedicated lay leadership who support our congregation with their time, their resources and their passion.

Our President, Ellen Abrams, had a very busy 2nd year.  She is a dedicated and hard-working, visionary leader who shares our dream of helping Temple Emanuel enter into a new world of cutting edge leadership and innovation.  She truly is a blessing. 
Ellen has been actively involved in every aspect of Temple life:  From our Shwayder Campaign to leadership development, staff transition, every form of fundraising,

Our trustees and officers have worked tirelessly to ensure that our vision is in line with our deeds and that we will have the resources and resilience to continue to grow.

Staff Partners
Our staff team looks very different now than it did 6 years ago, when I first came to Temple.  We have had many transitions – many coming and goings.

We said goodbye to Janet Bronitsky and welcomed Steve Stark as my co-CEO – Executive Director of Temple Emanuel.  I want to say how fortunate I am to be able to partner with Steve on a daily basis.  He is a deeply committed Jew. He is a student of torah and a consummate professional.  He shares our vision for a congregation that is not satisfied with being “ordinary” – he wants us all to rise up and find new avenues of excellence.  He makes sure that all of us have the tools we need to serve our community while also ensuring that we are fiscally responsible.  Steve’s warmth and mentshlichkeit are genuine and a wonderful reflection of our congregation’s values.  He is “Audacious Hospitality” personified.

We celebrated Cantor Heit’s retirement in grand style and recognized her many years of dedicated service to our congregation and the Jewish People.
Our newly-installed Sr. Cantor, Elizabeth Sacks, brings a tremendous wealth of talent, commitment and energy.  Over the past 4 years that she has been a part of Temple Emanuel, she has continued to bless us with her leadership, organizational skills, calm presence and exemplary work ethic.  She has developed caring and deep relationships with her students – whether studying Talmud, Weekly torah study, b’nai mitzvah – Cantor Sacks is a gift to our community and the Jewish people.  She is a born leader – not only here at Temple, but nationally - something about which we should be justifiably proud.

Rabbi Immerman continues to grow in his role as Associate Rabbi.  This has been a momentous year for him as he and his bride, Jenny celebrated their marriage over Superbowl weekend.  Brian’s caring, compassion, vision and commitment to social justice have all served to enhance our congregation.  His work with the Hineyni project is a vitally important part of our outreach to younger adults and families in our community.

Ron Leff, our outgoing Director of Education has created a legacy of educational excellence at Temple Emanuel for which we are eternally grateful.  Ron’s continued commitment to our youth, our religious school, and his legacy of outstanding programming – from Shwayder camp, to youth programming, alternative methodologies for Confirmation, religious school and so many other areas will be missed.  We wish Ron the best in his future endeavors and we will be celebrating him in two weekends during Shabbat services on Friday night and Religious school on Sunday morning.

Steve Brodsky – our director of Engagement and Artist in Residence is a gift.  Steve is yet another reason that I feel so blessed to be able to be a part of this wonderful congregation.  His spiritual depth, attention to detail, genuine warmth and good humor, and passion for worship make him not only a wonderful teammate, but a dear friend as well.

Jodie Abrams – our Director of Shwayder Camp – continues to impress everyone she meets.  This has not been an easy year.  We are in the midst of our capital campaign and Jodie has had to add to her busy schedule of hiring staff, designing the programming for the summer, facilitating recruitment while at the same time, dealing with a major capital campaign – looking at blueprints for new buildings, fundraising, and exploring options for camp during a time when we are both building and opening camp.  She is yet another Malach – messenger from on high.

Susan Wartchow – our ECC Director continues to weave her magic.  The ECC is an incredible place – full of energy and caring, learning and development.  Her absolute dedication to the healthy growth of every child – along with parents and siblings – while earning the respect and devotion of her staff, families and the greater Denver ECC community is a blessing.

Patricia Lackner, my administrative assistant has the unenviable task of managing my crazy schedule and keeping me organized.  Her patience, persistence, professionalism and sense of humor mean the world to me.

Francie Miran
This has been a powerful year for Francie.  Her unparalleled success in coordinating our annual fundraising concert, while juggling the intricacies of the Shwayder Capital Campaign, Live On and the multiple other projects with which she is involved has been fantastic.  She is a loyal and long-time member of our congregation who give of her time to lead our 5:30 service and so many other areas.  We also express our condolences to her on the recent loss of her beloved mother, Belle.

To Rayna, Sura, Rita, Julie, Simi, Robyn,  Cairo and all of the other team members I have not mentioned by name, I appreciate the many hours you invest in our congregation.  Your commitment to and love of Temple mean the world to me.

Our congregation is blessed by Malachim – messengers on High.  May all of us continue to find opportunities to be God’s messengers – here at Temple and every day of our lives.